How Long Does Ice Cream Last in the Freezer?

published Jun 22, 2022
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Credit: Brittany Conerly

The bad news: Ice cream does expire. Like all foods kept in the freezer, ice cream is slow to go bad, but it won’t last indefinitely. The environment of your freezer and the type of container you keep your ice cream in both affect how long ice cream lasts. Here’s what you need to know about storing ice cream, how to tell if ice cream has gone bad, and how to make it last longer.

How Long Does Ice Cream Last in the Freezer?

Depending on a few conditions, ice cream will last for up to six months in the freezer. All store-bought ice cream will have an expiration date stamped on the container. Most food-safety experts agree it’s OK to push that date back by a couple of months, but it’s up to you to make your own choice about that.

Typically, homemade ice cream doesn’t last as long as store-bought. This is in part because there are (generally) fewer preservatives in homemade ice cream, but also because home cooks may store DIY ice cream in improper, flimsy, or porous containers that speed up deterioration.

Like all frozen foods, ice cream that has been kept consistently frozen will last longer. That means minimizing the time ice cream has spent at room temperature, so consider bringing an insulated sealable or zippered bag on your next grocery trip.

A truly cold freezer makes a difference, too. The FDA recommends keeping your freezer set between -18 and 0 degrees — but no higher than 0.

How Can You Tell If Ice Cream Has Gone Bad?

A freezer is not a foolproof time capsule. While freezers and fridges slow potential bacterial growth, they does not stop it. Because most ice cream is high in sugar, it provides a ready-made food source for harmful bacteria. So it’s important to know the signs of ice cream that has gone bad. (Remember here that expired ice cream does not necessarily mean ice cream that has gone bad.)

How to tell if ice cream has gone bad: Contaminated ice cream (ice cream that has been affected by food-borne pathogens) might not show visible signs of spoilage. Follow food safety protocols for transport and storage — such as avoiding melting and refreezing — to minimize your risk. If you’re at all unsure as to whether your ice cream has been introduced to unsafe storage conditions, discard it. It’s a good idea to regularly check the FDA’s list of recalled foods for store-bought ice cream products and items like eggs, milk, and cream if you make your own ice cream. Spoiled or contaminated ice cream can make you sick, but it’s rare that eating properly made and stored ice cream a month or two past the expiration date will.

How to tell if ice cream is freezer burned: You’ve likely seen freezer burn before. This manifests as tiny ice crystals or shards over the surface of a frozen food, and can affect everything from frozen green beans to leftover soup. Freezer burn is the result of moisture loss in foods — which happens when the dry, cold air permeates storage containers. 

Is It Safe to Eat Freezer-Burned Ice Cream? 

Freezer-burned ice cream will have tiny shards of ice all over the surface. You may also observe these miniature crystals on other food items, like produce — especially if your freezer operates at low efficiency, needs to be cleaned, or is overstocked. Freezer-burned ice cream is safe to eat, although it won’t taste as good. You can scrape off the top layer of crystallization, then eat the rest, but note: The texture of the remaining ice cream may be icy and less creamy. Regardless, freezer-burned food is a sign of a low-performing freezer that needs maintenance.

How to Store Ice Cream So It Doesn’t Get Freezer Burned

Want to make your ice cream last longer? Keeping the plastic safety seal on a package of store-bought ice cream will help. Of course, that means you won’t be able to eat the ice cream. 

Avoid ice cream freezer burn with an insulated container. A more user-friendly way to keep ice cream fresh and protect it from freezer burn is to transfer it to a freezer-safe plastic container with a tight seal. Store-bought ice cream containers are typically made from reinforced paper products, which are porous and are not airtight. Freezer-safe plastic containers are also a good way to store homemade ice cream. (Although those paper pint containers are pretty cute.) You can also buy insulated carriers that fit a pint container cozily inside. They’re helpful for transport, but have thebenefit of keeping store-bought pints protected from the harsh chill right inside your freezer. 

Avoid ice cream freezer burn with a super-cold freezer. If your freezer is operating at any temperature above 0 degrees, reset the temperature or call a service technician to do necessary repairs. Don’t know how cold your freezer is? A small, easy-to-read cold-proof thermometer can tell you instantly.

Make ice cream last longer by storing it in the back of the freezer. The back of the freezer is the coldest part of the freezer, so that’s where your ice cream will be happiest (or at least, last longer). It also helps to avoid unnecessary opening of the door!

A Few More Thoughts on Keeping Ice Cream Fresh

Even if ice cream doesn’t immediately spoil after the expiration date, keeping multiple containers in the freezer can take up unnecessary space and cause crowding. The very best way to ensure ice cream doesn’t go bad is to buy it only in amounts that you’ll eat within a few months. And only you know how much (or little) that is.