Your family eats bread almost daily, but you still end up with stale bread at the end of the week. Can bread be refrigerated to prolong its shelf life?
Even though bread is a staple of our lives, many families end up with half-eaten loaves at the end of the week. Even though processed loaves of bread have an expiration date, it doesn’t get eaten fast enough to keep from waste. So is there a way to extend the life of bread? Can it be put in the fridge to keep it fresh?
Bread should never be refrigerated because the cooler temperatures recrystallize the starch molecules found in a loaf of bread. (the same process happens if you leave a slice of bread exposed to air - the starch molecules stiffen, and the bread becomes stale). Refrigerators speed up this process.
There is no question that a piece of warm toast or a good sandwich can make a day just seem better. With Americans eating about 53 pounds of bread a year a piece, it is easy to see how much of a staple bread truly is. Whether it is the smell of homemade sourdough filling the kitchen or a quick grab of sliced whole wheat bread at the store, many families have made this wonderful creation a part of their daily lives. But what’s the best way to store bread? You would love to take advantage of the times when the store has a sale by buying more than a loaf at a time. But if it just goes to waste, why should you?
What is the best way to keep the bread from going stale? What can you do with it if you can’t put it in the fridge? This article explores the question of whether bread should be refrigerated and how to store it properly so that your family can enjoy it as long as possible.
Should Bread Be Refrigerated?
While the refrigerator can help keep many other items from perishing quickly, the same cannot be said of bread. When the bread is exposed to colder temperatures (but not freezing), the starches in the inner part of the bread recrystallize. This effect accelerates the hardening process by drying the bread out, which in turn causes the bread to turn stale. If you have ever tried to store a half-eaten burger in the fridge and then return to it the next day, the bun will always be stiff, rigid, and taste like you know what.
The reason is because of the science involved. Bread is made of grain, which contains many starches that expand during baking. As the starch molecules absorb water and begin to gelatinize, the yeast in the dough feeds on the starch realizing carbon dioxide. The result is that the bread dough increases in space (the bread rises). The oven's heat bakes the bread batter and forms two distinct layers - a crust in direct contact with heat or the metal of a bread pan and the interior gas-filled substance (the soft, airy bread portion that most of us prefer).
Once cooked thoroughly, the bread is removed from the heat source and allowed to cool. Once cooled, the bread can be sliced, packaged, and ready for shipment to the store.
Then, if the bread sits out on the counter long enough, it continues to be exposed to air. There are a lot of spores in the air we breathe, and these nasty creatures attach themselves to the bread and begin. The spores develop into mold bacteria, which tend to multiply pretty quickly. Before you know it, the mold becomes a colony and covers the surface of the bread. It is never a good idea to consume mold, as the mold contains toxins that can create digestive and intestinal issues or even death in some rare cases. For more information about mold on bread, check out healthline.com
Where Should Bread Be Stored?
There are only two places where a person should store bread to prevent spoilage.
Most Americans store their bread on a counter in a plastic bag wrapped around the loaf and sealed with a twist tie for easy access. Bread can be stored for a couple of weeks. The plastic protects the loaf from outside air or external moisture. The twist tie allows for easy access and ensures that the plastic bag can be reused again and again.
(A helpful hint to replace the twist tie that invariably gets lost is to take a small piece of aluminum foil, roll it into a thin strip and use it in place of the twist tie. If you cannot find a twist tie, fold the open end of the bag and place it under the weight of the remaining loaf).
Other methods of storing bread, like paper wrapping, are not practical because of exposure to air. A bread box might be better than leaving exposed bread on the counter, but not by much. A bread box will keep most loaves fresh for a couple of days.
Storing bread in the freezer can be an effective way to prolong the life of a loaf of bread. The most effective way to keep the bread from spoiling in the freezer is to double wrap the plastic wrapper with freezer paper and label it. The frigid temperatures of the freezer do not allow the starch molecules to crystalize as quickly as in the refrigerator, thereby enhancing the bread's ability to retain its original state.
Thawing Bread From the Freezer
Be sure to slice any bread so that it can be retrieved by the slice as you need, without having to thaw out the entire loaf. Simply put the bread in a toaster or heat a loaf in a 325-degree oven for about fifteen minutes if you need an entire loaf (works very well for a freshly baked baguette or a large loaf of sourdough, rye, or other specialty loaves of bread.
Thawing Frozen Bread In the Fridge
Another method is to put the bread into the refrigerator from frozen, and it will be soft and pliable the following morning. (We recommend putting the bread into a large ziplock bag so that the bread molecules will not absorb the odors of the meatloaf you had last evening.
What Are Some Options for Stale Bread?
The best way to revive stale bread is to moisten the loaf under a tap (careful not to soak the bread so that it breaks down) and then heat it in the oven at 180 degrees for a few minutes. The bread loaf will begin reabsorbing the water molecules, and the bread will come out fresh and ready for use. For a great article on uses for stale bread, check out bonappetit.com
If the bread is not too stale, then consider using it as a bread bowl for a soup or slice it into smaller cubes and then cook the bread portions in an oven or air fryer for croutons. (Tossing the dry bread cubes in some melted butter with garlic and parmesan makes for an excellent tasting salad topper. (We recommend storing the croutons in a Ziploc baggie for use on salads and as topping for casseroles).
Other uses include french toast, crumble topping, stuffings, bread puddings, and even as a base for french bread pizzas.
About THE AUTHOR
I have over a decade of experience in food and beverage management, including a ServSafe food safety qualification. As part of this qualification, I have been professionally trained in safe food storage.Read More About Mark Walker