How does melted ice cream cause 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, a lecturer in Biomedical Science at Aston University, 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.
- Amreen Bashir, PhD, lecturer in biomedical science at Aston University
Aside from consuming melted (and refrozen) ice cream, contamination can occur even before it makes its way into your fridge, including during manufacturing, shipment, or even by making it at home using potentially unsafe ingredients.
"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
Why is ice cream prone to bacteria and food poisoning?
According to the FDA, commercially manufactured ice cream that contains egg products can be susceptible to Salmonella infection. If a product is made without pasteurized eggs or the final product isn’t pasteurized (aka it hasn’t undergone heat-treatment to destroy pathogenic microorganisms), it can lead to foodborne illness.
Additionally, milk, which has a high propensity for spoiling and also happens to be the base of most dairy-based ice creams, can also be a conduit for bacterial contamination like Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria.
What are the symptoms of ice cream food poisoning?
Symptoms of food poisoning from ice cream include fever, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps, usually beginning 12 to 72 hours after eating the contaminated food, the FDA says. Additionally, the infection can last anywhere between four to seven days on average. Though most people recover without any treatment, those at high risk, have worsening symptoms, or have a compromised immune system, should seek medical attention. And, if you do happen to get sick, here's what to eat when you are recovering from food poisoning.
How can you avoid food poisoning from ice cream?
- Avoid double-dipping into a tub of ice cream.
- Scoop your ice cream with clean utensils.
- If your ice cream melts or thaws completely, throw it away.
- Keep ice cream frozen at all times.
- Avoid ice cream with unpasteurized ingredients (like eggs or milk).
- If making ice cream at home, make sure to use unpasteurized products.
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.
How can you tell if ice cream has been refrozen?
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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