Breadboxes – dry or humid

Bread is … an intermediate-moisture food product that is prone to mould spoilage. Normally bread is eaten fresh or preserved using additives or modified atmosphere packaging.

Stanley P. Cauvain, Breadmaking, 2nd ed. 2012

Most bread is made of grain that has been harvested, milled,to be hydrated, kneaded, and baked. Agricultural, industrial and culinary art have extended the usefulness of grain, but have not created a product to compare to the lembas bread of the elves in The Lord of the Rings. Bread is edible and palatable for a few days. There are some breads that are baked hard and last longer – crackers and hardtack. Commercial bakers use additives and packaging – plastic – to extend the period of time that orinary soft bread remains safe and palatable; there are some uses for stale bread.

Bread is porous and moist; it is vulnerable to mould (also known as mold – I am using the classical UK spelling). Moulds reproduce by releasing microscopic spores. There are hundreds or thousands of spores in every cubic meter of household air. Most household filtration devices do not trap or control these spores. Mould spores will get on bread. Not all moulds thrive on bread, but several do. A mould, like a mushroom, has a mycelium of thread-like “roots”. Mould has health effects. Many moulds produce toxins. The antibiotic penicillin was derived from a common mould, that is popularly said to have been a bread mould. That is not a reason to eat mouldy bread.

Breadboxes are a convenient way of storing bread, and largely effective at protecting bread from most household animal and insect pests. Most people have a storage system for bread. Some kitchens have bread drawers in counters and cabinets. Modern breadboxes are often vented or have loose doors and lids or some mechanism to allow air flow that lets bread dry a bit – which delays mould, although it exposes the bread to some risks. Packaging can keep loaves from drying out for a few days. A consumer can combine a ventilated bread box with paper or bread bags or other wrapping. Many modern breadboxes use plastic or silicon seals to maintain the bread in an airtight chamber. This retains moisure and creates a humid storage space for bread. This delays bread drying out, and protects against some pests. This kind of box needs to be washed and disinfected regularly.

Refrigeration does not delay drying and staling. Some moulds grow in/on refrigerated foods. Some people use the refrigerator to store sandwich breads. Bread can be frozen and thawed. There is the practice, said to popular among the Dutch, of freezing and thawing bread.

Home bakers, bread machine bakers and internet advice sites have suggestions on inhibiting mould:

I have tried storage options:

  • Vented breadboxes;
  • A Tupperware 23 cup (5.5 liter) plastic box with a hinged sealed lid. It is large enough to hold large (2 lb.) bread machine loaves. It seems to be airtight. Bread picks up mould spores which grow into mould on anything in the box, even crumbs. After a week or so it starts to become a petrie dish;
  • Metal tins with lids. Old cookie tins are too small, I have a manufacturer’s container for potato chips as sold in the 1950s and early 1960s. My mother had a few, used to store flour, rolled oats and sugar. This can hold a loaf or two. It may not do well with humid contents – I don’t want to see if the interior metal rusts, or find out what rust does for bread.

There are plastic food storage boxes on the market that will hold a loaf of bread. These keep a loaf from drying out, but are humid. These. like my Tupperware, have to be regularly washed to remove crumbs and prevent mould. I don’t want a new ceramic bread storage container, an accessory suggested on some sites, or another airtight container.

My answer is a ventilated bread box, with some packaging, in a clean kitchen. Housework, more housework.

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