Short Answer: Forever, in theory, but not really
If you think of food like meat, fish, fresh fruits and vegetables or bread, if left out they most definitely go bad in such a way that they will actually rot, go moldy, develop bacteria and make you very sick if you eat them. Freezing food generally protects against this so with a food such as icecream which can only be stored frozen, surely it just lasts forever?
Well sort of yes. Icecream stored in the freezer can’t rot or make you sick so in that way then it will last forever. However, it will not stay optimum forever. The texture and flavor can change over time, it can become icy and simply not taste as good. So I’ll explain a bit more about this and how it affects storage of your homemade ice cream.
For any frozen food, including icecream, a common problem with leaving it in the freezer for too long is known as “freezer burn“. This is caused by water evaporation. This will happen at all temperatures and when the water molecules move to the surface of the food and the air is dry, those molecules will go directly to a solid phase which causes ice crystals to form.
In icecream, what will happen is that you’ll get that crunchy icy texture on top, instead of the smooth creamy texture you were expecting. It’s perfectly safe to eat, though it won’t taste great and it’s something best avoided.
Shop bought vs home made ice cream
So first of all, is there any difference in the shelf life of your homemade icecream from that bought in your local supermarket? In a word – No. The reason being, that the cause of the deterioration of the quality of the icecream is water molecules moving to the surface and coming into contact with the air as described above. The kinds of preservatives you often find in supermarket food has no effect on icecream which means that the shelf life is effectively the same.
What’s the shelf life?
Icecream that you purchase from the shops will usually have a shelf life of around 3 months. Note that these will usually come in properly sealed air-tight containers. Keeping the air out is key because as explained above, it’s the air reacting to the water molecules that causes those nasty ice crystals to form.
For your homemade icecream to last as long as the store-bought stuff, you need to store it well. Make sure that the air is kept out, this is the most important factor. When you start eating it and the tub begins to empty, you can try to remove it as a solid block, wrap it in plastic wrap and then putting it back into the coldest part of the freezer.
Once opened however, generally it’s going to be difficult to keep the air away and unless you vacuum pack it every time you eat some, which is pretty impractical, you’ll want to finish it within about a month.
How to extend the expiration date
If you want to make sure your icecream is good for as long as possible, here are a few tips:
- Keep the air out! Yes, I’m repeating it again, it’s the most important factor
- Store it as cold as possible
- Put it at the back of the freezer, so that warm air can’t hit it when you open the door
- Don’t let it melt and refreeze – take what you need, immediately put the tub back in the freezer