With temperatures climbing steadily over the summer, many U.S. families turn to store-bought ice cream, yogurt and popsicles to beat the summer heat. However, if consumers are shopping for the Walmart brand, they could be biting off more than they can chew with an ice cream sandwich that does not melt. A mother in Cincinnati reached out to the media after her son’s ice cream sandwich, part of Walmart’s Great Value product line, was left sitting out in the sun for 12 hours but failed to melt.
Mother Christie Watson claims that when she saw the Walmart ice cream sitting out in the heat without dissolving, she was confused. The state of the ice cream sandwich had reportedly changed very little from its original condition; 12 hours had passed, by Watson’s estimation, but the sandwich still held a shape and texture similar to a fresh-from-the-freezer treat.
Watson examined the ice cream and box, checking the ingredients for signs of artificial milk or cream products that might cause the unexpected reaction with ice cream from exposure to 80 degree temperatures. The ingredients listed on the Walmart Great Value ice cream sandwich were not all natural, but were not out of the ordinary, either. The most extreme ingredients were a series of preservatives and sweeteners.
A Cincinnati television station, WCPO, elected to explore Watson’s claim further. Using three different ice creams, the station recreated the experiment and reported their findings. Walmart’s Great Value sandwich bar, a Klondike ice cream sandwich, and a pint of Haagen Dazs ice cream were all left in the sun for an hour and a half in similar temperatures in an effort to determine if one or more of the sandwiches would not melt a second time.
The Klondike ice cream sandwich did melt, although this product did not lose its shape completely. The pint of Haagen Dazs was left melted and soupy after its 90 minute exposure to the Cincinnati heat. The Walmart ice cream sandwich, however, is reported to have retained its shape almost completely.
The television station WCPO made an inquiry to Walmart executives regarding this incident, asking what this experiment said about the quality and freshness of the superstore’s products. In response, Walmart released a statement to WCPO saying that ice cream is known to melt based upon its ingredients. Ice cream that contains more cream, Walmart said, does have a tendency to melt at a slower rate, but this does not indicate any inherent safety concerns. “Ice cream with more cream will generally melt at a slower rate,” the Walmart statement read, “which is the case with our Great Value ice cream sandwiches.”
Indeed, Klondike ice cream sandwiches, as well as Walmart’s Good Value sandwich bars, contain cellulose gum as a preservative. Haagen Dazs, however, contained what could be considered more organic ingredients: cream, milk, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Haagen Dazs’ lack of stabilizing ingredients, such as guar or cellulose gum (which both Klondike and Walmart used), would explain why this brand of ice cream was so quick to perish under the heat of the summer sun.
Some information from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website may shed some light on the ambiguity of the terms used to classify “milk” and “cream” in ice cream. According to the FDA, ice cream is a defined as a food that is crafted by freezing dairy or dairy elements. These elements can include, among many other things, dried and plastic cream, butter and butter oil, skim milk that has been introduced to calcium hydroxide and disodium phosphate, as well as whey. All of these additives can, for all intents and purposes, be classified as “dairy.”
Unfortunately, this leaves consumers with more questions than answers when posed the question: what exactly am I feeding to my family? When Christie Watson inspected the box of ice cream sandwiches she purchased from Walmart, she says that the box did not claim to be artificial ice cream. “It says ‘ice cream’,” she insisted to WCPO reporters.
It is indeed very peculiar, then, that the Walmart ice cream sandwich did not melt. The facts suggest that the answer could be in the slippery regulations defining “milk” and “milk products” by the FDA. Adding to this, the amount of dairy products which an ice cream is required by law to contain in order to legally qualify as ice cream is relatively low compared to the sum of its parts. Dairy ice cream needs to contain a minimum of 2.5 percent milk protein, with an additional five percent fat from dairy. Stories like this one from an unsettled mother in Cincinnati highlight a growing concern raised by Americans regarding the importance and accessibility of food labeling regulations worldwide.
By Mariah Beckman