All types of ice cream melt at room temperature, but they can soften at varying degrees. So, you may have some soft ice cream in your freezer without really knowing its actual condition and if it is still edible. Thus, you will want to know if it is safe to eat soft ice cream from a freezer.
It may be safe to eat soft ice cream from a freezer if you know precisely how long it has been that way. However, it is not safe to eat soft ice cream that has thawed and refrozen. Also, you must differentiate between hard ice cream, soft serve, and the ingredients.
Soft serve and hard ice creams have different temperature and storage requirements. Also, the many hard and soft-serve ice creams made commercially don’t have the same ingredients. Read on to know when, how, and why it is unsafe or safe to eat soft ice cream from a freezer.
When Is It Not Safe To Eat Soft Ice Cream From a Freezer?
It is not safe to eat soft ice cream from a freezer if it has thawed for several hours. Also, if any ice cream has evident degradation in its texture and flavor, the dessert is unlikely to be healthy or pleasantly edible. Soft ice cream is also vulnerable to microbial growth.
If a freezer stops working and some ice cream has begun to soften, you can eat soft ice cream from an unopened pack within a few hours.
The precise time varies depending on the ambient conditions in your house and region. However, an unopened pack in a still relatively cool freezer for up to four hours shouldn’t pose a health risk.
An opened ice cream pack that has been thawed and refrozen is a different scenario. Ideally, you should not thaw a pack or soften any ice cream and refreeze it.
However, if you have an opened ice cream pack that has softened after thawing and refreezing, whether the freezer isn’t working or there is a power outage, you should exercise caution while deciding if it is safe to eat the soft ice cream from the freezer.
I don’t recommend eating soft ice cream from an opened pack that has thawed and refrozen. Irrespective of how delightful the ice cream may be, the health risks due to microbial growth don’t make it worthwhile.
Why Is It Not Safe To Eat Soft Ice Cream From a Freezer?
It is not safe to eat soft ice cream from a freezer as the ingredients facilitate the growth of bacteria and other pathogens, especially as the temperature rises. Also, you won’t know if the ingredients are still safe, such as preservatives, emulsifiers, or other things.
At warmer temperatures, ice cream is a thriving ground for Listeria monocytogenes, Escherichia coli, Bacillus cereus, Yersinia, Salmonella, and other microbes.
Listeria monocytogenes cause the bacterial infection known as Listeriosis. Over the years, several outbreaks have been reported due to Listeria contamination in ice cream.
In 2022, Royal Ice Cream recalled several batches of its products. A few years ago, Blue Bell Creameries had failed to prevent a multistate outbreak, and the CDC had to step in. Listeria monocytogenes pose many challenges due to the strains’ survival and outbreak characteristics.
Here are a few concerning facts:
- Any ice cream with thriving Listeria monocytogenes may not smell or look spoiled.
- Listeriosis may not have any symptoms for several days, sometimes months.
- Listeria can grow at temperatures as low as 25°F (-4.0°C).
Most microbes thrive in the food danger zone of 40°F to 140°F (4.5°C to 60°C). However, Listeria does not abide by this norm. Multiple strains of the bacterium can multiply even when the temperature is around 25°F (-4.0°C).
Now, the standard freezer temperature is 0°F (-18°C). However, if you have soft ice cream in the freezer, the unit’s temperature is much higher. Thus, the ice cream is more likely to harbor the growth and multiplication of Listeria monocytogenes.
Pregnant women, newborns, and the elderly with a history of diabetes, liver ailments, or kidney issues are more vulnerable to Listeriosis. Also, cancer patients or survivors and those with weak immune systems can experience a serious infection.
How To Decide If It Is Safe To Eat Soft Ice Cream From a Freezer
The industrial standard temperature for ice cream storage is -20°F (-28.9°C). Residential freezers sustaining around 0°F (-18°C) are fine to store ice cream for its entire shelf life. But ice cream doesn’t usually undergo any degradation at temperatures as high as 10°F (-12.2°C).
Ice cream may be soft at 10°F (-12.2°C). However, the dessert is safe to eat in this condition and temperature unless it is melted and refrozen ice cream or an already opened pack that has hardened and softened in the freezer.
One reliable way to test the safety and edibility is by checking the ice cream’s consistency and texture. The presence of lumps and plenty of ice crystals inside the ice cream are telltale signs that you must avoid eating it.
Also, the texture might be significantly different if it is a soft serve ice cream.
First, soft serve ice cream is stored and dispensed at higher temperatures than the hard variants. Also, soft serve ice cream machines like Electro Freeze have different day, night, and hopper temperatures.
Plus, a soft serve ice cream may lose its consistency and texture completely in some conditions. Most commercially produced soft serve ice creams have many additional ingredients, including:
- Leavening agents
- Flavor enhancers
These ingredients need a perfect condition to remain stable and serve their functions. Otherwise, the emulsifiers and other agents can fall apart when a soft serve ice cream undergoes changes in temperature, pressure, and storage conditions.
Consider this example of three common ingredients used in soft serve ice cream:
None of these ingredients can tolerate moisture or exposure to warm air. Thus, softening or melting soft serve ice cream will not retain its form, flavor, texture, or consistency, whether in a freezer or outside.
Besides, all microbial growth risks also apply to soft serve ice cream.
Consider the condition of soft ice cream, how long it is thawing, and the freezer temperature to decide if it is safe to eat. Avoid eating soft ice cream from an opened pack that was thawed and refrozen. Also, dispose of the pack if there are unusual lumps, ice crystals, and texture changes.