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    Monday, 28 November 2016

    Ice Cream Food Poisoning: How to Avoid It


    It sounds like something from a gothic novel: pure evil hidden within a sweet exterior. Unfortunately, though, the potential for ice cream to give people food poisoning is all too real. So, how does a Knickerbocker Glory become a Frankenscoop? And, how can flan fatales be avoided, if at all? Let’s begin by looking at exactly what food poisoning is before we move more specifically to ice cream.


    Food poisoning

    Most food poisoning occurs when bacteria from the air lands on a food stuff and starts to multiply (grow). In such circumstances, food acts as a petri dish, providing the rich supply of nutrients needed for relatively small amounts of bacteria to grow into large amounts. If those bacteria are nasty in large doses, they could cause serious health problems; and if the food type is particularly hospitable to microbes (dairy, poultry, and so forth), the latter can multiply rapidly within it.

    Many microorganisms, including many dangerous ones, thrive between 20 and 40 degrees centigrade; the temperature of most rooms. Frozen food, which is well below zero, is therefore not a hospitable environment for them. In a freezer, microbes become dormant, but don’t die (you can’t kill them with cold). Danger, therefore, could lie just beyond the freezer door.  


    Re-freezing once thawed

    The first way in which ice cream can be dangerous is if it has melted and been re-frozen. This could happen if, say, you eat ice cream on Tuesday, leave it out of the freezer for long enough to melt, then put it back in the freezer, only to get it out again on Thursday to eat some more.

    In such a circumstance, when the ice cream was brought out of the freezer on Tuesday, it was brought into an environment with a hospitable temperature for microbes to multiply within a medium. Ice cream melts at roughly zero degrees centigrade; and does so, therefore, fairly quickly when left in a room temperature environment. The sugary, milk-based liquid puddle is a perfect petri dish.  

    Listeria monocytogenes is a common cultivator in such circumstances, swooping in to plant a whole field of its offspring on the unsuspecting syrup. If the ice cream is then put back to be re-frozen, so too is a lot of nasty bacteria. On Thursday, that’s basically what you’re eating.

    But remember: the danger on Thursday is only present if the ice cream was left out for too long on Tuesday. If there had only been slight melting around the edges, there would be no problem.

    Suggesting a ‘maximum time that ice cream should be left out’ would be a little short-sighted; after all, the ice cream’s surface area, the room temperature and so forth are variables which could make advisable times vary wildly. It’s down, therefore, to your own discretion: the threshold is when it’s somewhere in-between solid and a runny puddle.

    Best practice, however, is to avoid the risk entirely and just scoop out however much you need on Tuesday, put it in a bowl, and return the ice cream tub to the freezer right away. If your mother never taught you not to eat out of the tub, she really should have - although now we know it’s more than good manners; it’s also much safer (unless you eat the whole thing in one go…which, you know, please don’t…)


    Cross Contamination

    Another way in which ice cream can become dangerous is through cross contamination with other harmful food stuffs. The main concern here is that spoons and scoops used to distribute the ice cream from tub to bowl have any nasties on them: for instance, if they’ve come into contact with raw chicken or gone-off milk.

    Colour coding your equipment is always helpful in keeping cross contamination to a minimum.


    Bad ingredients

    Unfortunately, however, there are certain ways in which ice cream can poison someone by no fault of their own. One example is that of contaminated ingredients.

    Back in September, Blue Bell Creameries recalled two flavours of ice cream over fears they contained our old friend Listeria. The company blamed the problem, however, upon one of their suppliers: Aspen Hills Inc. Still, it wasn’t the first time that Blue Bell themselves had been in trouble for contaminated food: in 2015, they had to suspend their operations after a deadly outbreak of Listeria spread, once again, by their ice cream.

    The message: manufacturers, their suppliers, distributors and so forth are all capable of causing accidental harm to the consumer. There’s not much consumers can do about this, however, beyond only buying from trusted brands. But, then again, even the best companies need to trigger recalls now and again. So perhaps it’s better to simply hold your nose and chew (or… wait, how do you eat ice cream?...)


    James Stannard

    James has a Bachelor’s degree in History and wrote his dissertation on beef and protest. His heroes list ranges from Adele to Noam Chomsky: inspirations he’ll be invoking next year when he begins a Master’s degree in London.
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    Item Reviewed: Ice Cream Food Poisoning: How to Avoid It Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Food Safety Co
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