How Long Does Ice Cream Last? Exploring Shelf Life and Storage Guidelines

How long does ice cream last?

Ice cream is a popular frozen treat enjoyed by people of all ages. Many people assume that ice cream can’t spoil because it’s in the freezer. However, under the right conditions, ice cream can go bad faster than expected. This article examines the shelf life of ice cream, both opened and unopened, as well as proper storage techniques and signs of spoilage.

The Shelf Life of Ice Cream

Once opened, ice cream can last up to 6 weeks in the refrigerator. On the other hand, unopened ice cream has a longer shelf life, lasting up to 2-3 months when stored at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s important to note that melted and refrozen ice cream will only maintain its quality for a few weeks before it begins to lose its flavor and texture.

The Journey of Ice Cream

Despite being stored in the freezer, ice cream requires proper storage protocols to maximize its longevity. Numerous factors can cause ice cream to spoil, even in a short period of time. Ice cream contains milk, sugar, flavorings, and moisture, making it susceptible to spoilage. These ingredients are considered highly perishable, and when combined with preservatives and additives, ice cream becomes even more susceptible to spoilage.
It is worth noting that bacteria become dormant at freezing temperatures. The ideal temperature for freezing food, including ice cream, is 0 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature inhibits bacterial growth and can even kill some types of bacteria.

Is ice cream shelf stable?

The shelf life of ice cream is largely due to its careful manufacturing process. Ice cream is produced either in large commercial factories or in small cottage industries. Regardless of the scale of production, maintaining hygiene and adhering to quality control protocols are critical steps in ensuring the shelf life of ice cream.
The manufacturing process begins with sourcing milk from local farms, which is then transported to the production line in temperature-controlled containers. The milk is batch tested to maintain quality standards before being mixed with other ingredients. The production line is regularly sanitized to minimize exposure and contamination. Once the ice cream is made, it is packaged in sanitized plastic containers and shipped to retail stores.

Maintaining the cold chain

The cold chain refers to the supply process that ensures the longevity and quality of ice cream. It ensures that ice cream remains frozen throughout the supply chain. This process is closely monitored in commercial settings, but can face challenges in local production.
To maintain the cold chain, ice cream is transported in temperature-controlled vehicles to local stores, where it is immediately placed in freezers within 10-15 minutes. It is critical to minimize the amount of time the ice cream spends at room temperature, as prolonged exposure to warmer temperatures can affect its quality.

Storing ice cream at home

Once consumers take ice cream home, they play a critical role in maintaining its quality. It is important to store ice cream as soon as possible to prevent deterioration of flavor, texture and shelf life, even if the container is unopened. While ice cream products are designed to last for some time at room temperature due to airtight packaging and quality control, improper storage practices can still negatively impact the product.

How long does ice cream last in the freezer?

Properly stored in the freezer, unopened ice cream can last approximately 2-3 months. Opening the carton will significantly affect its shelf life. The airtight seal that keeps bacteria and air out of the carton is compromised when the carton is opened, allowing air to oxidize the ice cream. Therefore, opened ice cream should be consumed within 6 weeks to ensure optimal quality.

Best Before vs. Expiration Date

Ice cream products typically carry a “best before” date rather than a hard expiration date. Freezing food effectively extends its shelf life, and as long as the freezer is working properly, frozen food is safe to eat. However, the taste and quality of ice cream can deteriorate over time.
The sell-by date indicates the point at which ice cream may begin to taste different. Factors such as exposure to air and moisture can cause chemical changes that affect the taste and texture of the ice cream. These changes are not caused by bacterial growth, but are normal changes that occur during storage.

Signs of spoilage

While ice cream may not pose a significant health risk if consumed past its sell-by date, there are signs of spoilage. Freezer burn, which occurs when ice cream is exposed to air and moisture, can cause the product to lose moisture and develop a lumpy texture. Changes in flavor, texture and the presence of ice crystals are also indicators of ice cream spoilage.


The shelf life of ice cream varies depending on whether it is opened or unopened and how it is stored. Proper storage techniques, such as returning ice cream to the freezer immediately after use, can help maintain its quality and extend its shelf life. While ice cream may not pose a significant health risk if consumed past its sell-by date, signs of spoilage, such as freezer burn or changes in taste and texture, indicate that the ice cream should be discarded. By following proper storage guidelines and being aware of the signs of spoilage, consumers can enjoy delicious ice cream while ensuring its freshness and quality.


How long does ice cream last in the refrigerator once it is opened?

Once opened, ice cream will keep in the refrigerator for up to 6 weeks.

What is the shelf life of unopened ice cream?

Unopened ice cream can last up to 2-3 months when stored at 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

Can you eat melted and refrozen ice cream?

Melted and refrozen ice cream will only keep for a few weeks before it loses its flavor and quality.

What causes ice cream to go bad?

Ice cream is susceptible to spoilage because it contains dairy, sugar, flavorings and moisture. These ingredients, along with preservatives and additives, make ice cream easily perishable.

What is the ideal temperature for freezing ice cream?

The ideal freezing temperature for ice cream is 0 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature inhibits bacterial growth and can even kill some types of bacteria.

How do I know when ice cream has gone bad?

Signs of spoiled ice cream include freezer burn, changes in taste and texture, and the presence of ice crystals. If you notice any of these signs, it is best to throw the ice cream away.