Ice cream is such a delight for children and adults alike, an irresistible temptation. The perfect way to enjoy it is when it’s refreshingly cold and soft enough to scoop yet, not thawed for it to melt completely.
Keeping ice cream out of the freezer to get it to the perfect consistency works well until you forget about that tub of ice cream sitting out, only to find a melted mess later. And then, you wonder, ‘How long is it OK for ice cream to sit out?’, attempting to salvage your frozen dessert.
While you need to ideally store it in cold temperatures or in the freezer to serve ice cream in its best form, you can keep it out at room (ambient) temperature for about 15 – 20 minutes. You’ll see that within the first 5 – 10 minutes, it’ll be soft enough to scoop yet have sufficient ice crystals to hold it together.
Ice cream melts in those 15 – 20 minutes; anything left out beyond two hours is best discarded. This applies to opened and unopened ice cream. Room temperature promotes the rapid growth of harmful bacteria that not only changes the color and flavor of frozen food but is also a health hazard (especially in dairy products).
The melting process of any type of ice cream left out depends on a few factors that decide whether it’ll melt faster or slower.
Ice cream will melt faster if it is kept out in higher temperatures. Also, bacteria grow rapidly between 40 – 140 degrees Fahrenheit, especially in dairy products and might cause food poisoning. The same is true for homemade ice cream, store-bought ice cream and non-dairy ice cream.
Ice Cream Container Material
Plastic containers are a better way to store ice cream since metal containers conduct heat faster and cause faster melting.
Small containers of ice cream, like wrapped cones, popsicles, and single-serve containers, will melt faster than a large tub (like a half-gallon or a gallon) of ice cream. Large volumes of ice cream left out for a long time will melt more slowly. Good-quality ice creams will meet the same ends as normal quality ice cream just the same.
High humidity in the air stimulates heat transfer, causing ice cream to melt faster. On the other hand, if it’s cold outside, it slows down the melting process.
It gets a little tricky to tell if frozen food has gone bad. As a general guide, if you’ve left your ice cream to sit out too long, beyond 2 hours, or overnight (yikes!), think no more and throw it in the bin. It is a perishable food and probably become a breeding ground for bacterial growth.
As for any ice cream that’s been left in the freezer too long, you can try the following ways:
Ice cream left in the freezer for too long loses its rich, creamy texture. The moisture in it begins to crystallize, forming small ice flakes. A grainy texture is a clear sign that it’s beyond expiration.
If you see tiny ice crystals on the top layer and under the lid, it’s best not to consume it. However, if it’s just a few ice crystals, you can get eat the remaining ice cream after getting rid of them.
If your ice cream has an off odor, especially like rotten food, it’s because it probably is. As surprising as it may sound, the freezer’s lower temperatures can’t prevent mold growth completely. A mold-like scent warns it is bad ice cream and best discarded.
You probably don’t trust your judgment on the look and smell simply because you love ice cream way too much; you resort to tasting it.
It’s usually easier to pick off smells and tastes with slightly defrosted ice cream at warm temperatures. A great tip is to leave it out for a few minutes to let it soften and have a taste. If it has an odd flavor, discard it immediately.
It isn’t recommended to refreeze, let alone eat, ice cream that has been kept at an ambient temperature beyond two hours.
Ice cream that has been left out overnight is not just a melted mess but also has a whole lot of bacteria in it. Refreezing neither kills the bacteria nor does it revert the deteriorated texture and flavor.
Ice cream begins melting within the first 15 – 20 minutes of sitting out. However, you can refreeze ice cream that’s partially thawed but has been kept cold. You’ll have to use your discretion and judge whether or not it’s OK to refreeze.
Ideally, it would be best if you didn’t store ice cream in the refrigerator for long periods. If you were looking at serving ice cream within an hour and wanted to get it soft, it’s OK to pop it in the fridge. Don’t forget to return any remaining ice cream back to the freezer; if you did forget, it’ll eventually melt and is best discarded than refroze.
With ingredients like heavy cream, milk, and eggs used to make ice creams, it has a pretty short life. So use the best-by date or expiry dates as a guide.
Ideally, the back of the freezer is the coldest part and the ideal temperature to store ice cream. The optimum temperature is 0 degrees Fahrenheit and can be kept at 6 – 10 degrees, but it mustn’t exceed 10 degrees.
Here are some ways you extend the shelf life of ice cream:
Whether you whipped up some homemade ice cream with your ice cream maker, you got a tub of ice cream from the market, or even an ice cream cake, you must keep it as cool as possible until you serve it, preferably in the freezer. Just like ice cream, you mustn’t let even ice cream cake sit out for more than ten minutes.
Hot air melts ice cream and changes its texture and flavor. You can prevent air from coming in contact with the frozen dessert by:
- Using a sealed, airtight container.
- A layer of plastic wrap over the frozen food.
- Using dedicated containers, like Tupperware, for holding frozen items.
Avoid keeping ice cream in the freezer for months; the longer ice cream sits in the freezer, the more the chances of freezer burn. Once you’ve scooped out how much you need, place some plastic wrap over the surface and replace the lid to keep it back in the freezer.
The cherry on top!
It would be a sin to let ice cream go to waste. Now that you have the answer to ‘How long can ice cream sit out?’, you know the best way to keep ice cream in the perfect condition to relish.
Perhaps you’d like to read into How to Say Ice Cream in 100 Languages now for some fun trivia?