Thanks to this year’s rise in foodborne illnesses, many have learned the hard way about the dangers of not washing things like lettuce and melons before chowing down. But the harmful bacteria and parasites don’t just stop at your go-to healthy meal staples—if you’re not careful, they could plague your favorite dessert, too. While your ice cream bowl is typically safe to dip your spoon into, one common mistake could leave you with a serious case of food poisoning.
Eating a couple scoops of ice cream straight out of the freezer isn’t a problem, but something as simple and seemingly innocuous as letting your tub sit out on the counter could really affect your health. “Ice cream melts fairly rapidly at room temperature and the milky, sugary, liquid concoction is a perfect petri dish for bacteria like Listeria,” Amreen Bashir, PhD, writes in The Conversation. This means that the next time you settle in for a night of Netflix and chill treats, by enjoying your favorite pint—even if it’s been refrozen—you could be setting yourself up for days of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or worse since the freezer temps won’t kill the already-existing bacteria.
“Ice cream melts fairly rapidly at room temperature and the milky, sugary, liquid concoction is a perfect petri dish for bacteria like Listeria.” —Amreen Bashir, PhD
So, how can you make sure you don’t get sick without having to give up your favorite summertime dessert? Dr. Bashir says the best option is obviously putting the ice cream right back in the freezer after you fill up your bowl to make sure it doesn’t get the chance to melt, and never, ever double dip. If it’s no longer frozen, toss it.
And if you find yourself in the freezer aisle at the grocery store with your nose pressed up to glass covering the ice cream wondering whether your favorite pint has in fact already been refrozen, there’s an easy way to tell: According to Ben & Jerry’s, ice cream that has been melted then refrozen looks firmer and smaller because it’s lost all the air bubbles that fluff it up. Plus, you’ll also see a change in the texture, which becomes grainy and crystallized, and the container itself might be sticky and frosted from previously melted ice cream and refrozen condensation.
Another way to stay safe? Enjoy vegan nice cream, because with the dairy varieties, the only melty ice cream that’s safe to eat is the kind that’s dripping down your arm from an overflowing cone. Well, as long as your hands and arms are clean, that is.
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