Homemade or store bought – here’s the scoop on having the freshest, tastiest, creamiest ice cream
On the surface, ice cream storage seems simple. Cram your pint in the first empty spot in the freezer and move on to binging the next season of Bridgerton.
In reality, careless ice cream storage can lead to freezer burned treats. That crunchy, icy mess that leaves you disappointed and vowing to eat your ice cream in one sitting to avoid it. This crystallized state (aka freezer burn) occurs when the moisture in the ice cream sublimates (goes from a solid to a gas) and leaves behind a somewhat dehydrated treat. While freezer burned ice cream is safe to eat, we’re firm believers in enjoying every last bite of our ice cream. After all, life’s too short to settle for subpar desserts. We’ve put together the ultimate guide on ice cream storage – so you can savor every spoonful.
Fresh ice cream starts at the store
There's a reason why the freezer section is typically at the end of the grocery store. It’s the aisle that you should hit up last so your frozen foods don't thaw before you get home. Grocery store freezers should be nice and cold! The ideal temperature for storing ice cream is 0°F (-18°C) or colder. If the temperature is right, your tub of ice cream should feel firm if you give it a squeeze. If the freezer at your supermarket is above 10°F (-12°C), take a pass (and maybe tell the staff).
In an open top freezer case, dig down for pints that are stored closer to the bottom. Those on the top have likely gotten too warm.
Make a plan of attack
If you plan to get ice cream, whether from the grocery store or a scoop shop, make it your last stop before heading home. For the ride home, use a cooler or freezer bag to insulate your treats, especially if it’s warm out.
Keeping ice cream fresh at home
Once you get that creamy goodness home, avoiding shifts in temperature is key to preserving fresh ice cream. When ice cream repeatedly softens and re-freezes, the original tiny ice crystals grow into much larger ones – giving that unpleasant icy texture.
Your freezer should be set between 0°F (-18°C) and -5°F (-20°C) but colder is fine. If your freezer doesn’t have a temperature gauge, setting it to the coldest setting is a cool move. For long-term storage, the recommended temperature range is between -10°F (-23°C) and -25°F (-32°C). That's as cold as a Canadian prairie winter! Since we’re confident that we can polish off that tasty tub in good time, we’ll stick with 0°F.
It's best to store ice cream at the back of the freezer (or the bottom of a chest freezer), where it's most protected from temperature changes. Avoid keeping it in the door, since this is a prime area for temperature fluctuations every time you open the door and stare indecisively at the contents of your freezer while you try to decide what to make for dinner. Consider that easy access spot as a fast track to freezer burned treats.
Keep the lid firmly closed once the tub has been opened. Pressing some plastic wrap or parchment paper on the ice cream surface (before replacing the lid) can deter those large ice crystals from forming and creating a hard crunchy surface. Or, place the whole container in a zip top freezer bag and remove any excess air. For the truly dedicated, break out your vacuum sealer.
When it’s time to savor those spoonfuls of creamy deliciousness, take your scoops and promptly return the container to the depths of the freezer. When you're ready for seconds, it will be waiting for you in perfect condition. If your ice cream is too hard to scoop, letting it rest for 2 minutes on the counter or 10 minutes in the fridge should do the trick. Then back into the deep freeze it goes! Do NOT microwave your ice cream. The melting caused by a trip through the microwave will trigger ice crystal formation and permanently damage the texture of your tub.
Storing homemade ice cream
Whether you whipped up a quick and easy no-churn treat or you busted out your ice cream maker, when you’re freezing homemade ice cream there are a few more things to consider.
Choose a flat, shallow, plastic container with a tight-fitting lid for storing your ice cream. Round, pint shaped tubs are not the best choice here – something with more surface area will work better. Plastic containers are preferable, as they freeze faster than glass ones. Ice cream will freeze faster in a shallow container, resulting in a better texture, and a lid will prevent air from getting to it. Additionally, cover the ice cream surface with plastic wrap or parchment paper before freezing. The large flat surface also makes an ideal space for practicing those picture-perfect scoops.
It got melty. Now what? Can I refreeze melted ice cream?
If your frozen treats have suffered a tragic fate, there may still be hope. Whether or not the ice cream can be saved depends on how warm it has become.
It it’s got a few soft spots but is overall still mostly frozen, you can likely revive it. Try inverting the container in the freezer so the melted portion drips onto the lid leaving the frozen part intact at the base of the tub (tight fitting lid required to save you from messy freezer cleanup).
Unfortunately, if it's pretty much completely melted, it can't be saved. There are 2 big reasons for this – food safety and texture. Melted ice cream is a haven for bacteria to grow and can make you sick. Bacteria love ice cream as much as we do and multiply quickly at temperatures between 40°F (4°C) and 140°F (40°C). Known as the "danger zone," perishable foods should never be kept here longer than two hours. Refreezing the tub won’t kill the bacteria and eating melted or refrozen ice cream could make you ill. No ice cream experience should end that way.
The texture of refrozen ice cream will be disappointing to say the least. As it thaws, the ice crystals melt but do not refreeze to their original state (find out exactly why ice cream melts here). When refrozen, ice cream becomes dense and grainy instead of fluffy and creamy. When your ice cream has been out of the freezer (and in the danger zone) long enough to get really melty, it's best to throw it out. Avoid the sacrifice next time, and keep your tub fresh by following the tips above.
If you see freezer burn on top of your pint (and it isn't caused by refreezing a melted tub), you may be able to dig deeper and find ice cream that still looks fresh. Want to eat it anyways? It is safe to eat the freezer burned portion (although it won't be nearly as enjoyable as fresh ice cream). We suggest liberally applying chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and sprinkles to mask the icy crunch.
How long does ice cream keep?
Ice cream doesn't last forever, and it typically comes with a best before date. To enjoy the best quality product, eat it before that date provided (if it’s stored at or below 0°F). It is safe to consume it for 2 - 3 months past the best before date if there are no signs of spoilage.
For the best texture, finish it within 1 - 2 months of opening. Enjoy homemade treats within 2 weeks to 2 months. The better it’s stored, the longer it will stay fresh.
How can you tell if ice cream has gone bad?
While there are few obvious signs of ice cream gone bad, we’ve rounded up a short list of how to know when to toss it.
Freezer burn – Those telltale ice crystals that begin on the surface (see above). A bit of frostiness isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. However, when you end up with ice shards rather than a little sparkle, and your carton becomes a gooey mess, then the party is over.
Refrozen – If your treats have experienced the dreaded thaw and freeze, they could be bacteria laden and cause food borne illness. PASS.
Off smell or taste – Just like milk that's gone bad. If it smells or tastes off – don’t do it.
Taking good care of your ice cream to ensure a fresh taste and texture is not an easy task, but as die-hard ice cream enthusiasts, we think it's worth it. If you can’t be bothered, we recommend devouring it in one sitting, or as quickly as possible to enjoy it at its freshest.