Does Ice Cream Expire?

A spoonful of ice cream can be a major mood booster after a stressful day — and science will back that up. When we eat ice cream, we get a rush of endorphins (via Eat By Date) and the brain's pleasure center is triggered in the same way it would be if you had just won the lottery (per The Guardian). But sometimes we need to practice delayed gratification. When you tuck away a carton of your favorite ice cream in the freezer, how long can it keep before you need to chuck it?

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, foods can be kept frozen for anywhere from a month to over a year, depending on the food item. But ice cream is frozen by nature, so does it ever expire? Just like most other foods, ice cream runs the risk for foodborne illness if kept for too long. While freezing will slow down the growth of bacteria, it doesn't kill it off entirely, and ingredients found in ice cream such as cream, eggs, or milk are particularly susceptible to bacterial contamination (per LiveStrong). In fact, back in 2015, Blue Bell creamery issued a recall on their ice cream, frozen yogurt, and sherbet products due to an outbreak of Listeria that left 10 people hospitalized from illness and resulted in three deaths (via CDC).

This is how long you should keep opened ice cream versus unopened ice cream

In order to safeguard against illness, ice cream should always be purchased before the sell by date (via LiveStrong). Unopened ice cream that has been stored properly at 0 degrees Fahrenheit should be discarded after two months. Once you hit the one month mark, however, you'll want to take extra precautions by wrapping the container tightly in plastic wrap. Ice cream that has been previously opened is best consumed within seven to ten days, though it can be kept for up to two or three weeks after opening and should be plastic wrapped during storage.

Even with these guidelines in mind, ice cream that begins to show signs of spoiling should be discarded immediately. The formation of tiny ice crystals along the surface of the ice cream or on the underside of the lid is a sign that ice cream has expired (via Eat By Date). Ice cream lovers can scrape away this top layer and eat the bottommost layers of the ice cream initially, but if too much time has passed or the entire contents of the carton have become icy and gooey, you're better off tossing it out and purchasing a fresh carton.