Expanding the length of time that breads and cakes stay fresh would help retailers, food distributors and bakers around the world expand their customer base and grow their business. It would also benefit the US wheat industry, which provides a key ingredient for baked goods in international markets.
But can we really enlarge the window? US Wheat Associates (USW) thinks so.
In an example of USW’s commitment to service, the organization’s technical staff and consultants combined their knowledge and experience to extend the shelf life of baked goods. The USW has “explored every possibility” to develop processes and procedures that allow products to stay fresh for days or even weeks longer than current standards.
Willing to share knowledge
USW, which plans to hold training courses late next year or early 2024 to share what it has learned on the subject, is confident its classrooms will be full.
Most of the USW’s work on shelf life extension has been conducted in Southeast Asia, but the lessons learned apply to all bakeries around the world.
“In Southeast Asia, the typical shelf life for bread is seven days, and the maximum shelf life is around 10 days,” said Singapore-based USW bakery consultant Roy Chung. “For large bakeries and food distributors, extending it beyond those 10 days would mean they could sell baked goods in cities and towns farther from their manufacturing base. Retail markets would benefit. Consumers would benefit. Everyone up and down the supply chain would also benefit.
The “squeeze test”
Shelf life is defined as “the time that a freshly made product remains acceptable to the consumer”. Of course, consumers in every region have different tastes and preferences, but the primary goal of extending shelf life is universal: the product must pass the “squeeze test.”
The test is played every day, in every grocery store or supermarket. A shopper walks up to a bakery shelf, places a hand on an unsuspecting loaf of bread and gently squeezes in order to judge the freshness of a potential purchase.
USW’s work aims to help more breads and baked goods pass the compression test long after leaving a baker’s oven. The result would be more consumers in more places with the ability to purchase the products. This in turn creates more demand for US wheat.
Enemies of shelf life
According to Chung, the two main factors that prevent longer shelf life are mold and staling.
“These are separate issues that need to be tackled separately, and those are the things we’ve been working on,” he said. “The mold problem involves things like sanitation, humidity, temperature, relative humidity, water activity, and the use of preservatives. The staling problem involves the formulation and selection of ingredients.
The tools and formulas in exercise are many, including natural gums and enzymes, sugars and fats, chemical additives, and alternatives to chemical additives. Packaging innovations are also discussed, such as packaging bread and other baked goods in airtight plastic under a modified atmosphere.
The tools and formulas used are designed to match consumer preferences.
For example, the European market is less accepting of additives. The typical shelf life for a loaf of bread was traditionally 1 day, but is now 2-3 days.
“This is achieved either by using very high quality wheat like Hard Red Winter (HRW) or Hard Red Spring (HRS) wheat, which have a slower natural staling rate than some lower cost wheats. “, said Peter Lloyd, USW Regional Technical Technical Manager based in Morocco, said. “Our efforts in the European Union and Middle East regions are also promoting the use of HRS wheat in bread as a way to achieve cleaner labeling (fewer additives), a growing problem in this part of the world. world.”
Longer shelf life, cleaner labels
The varying requirements and preferences in different countries and regions make the USW’s effort to extend the shelf life of breads and baked goods an ideal topic for baker education.
And a perfect subject for USW’s planned training course and technical support for its overseas customers.
“There are many details involved in achieving the ultimate goal of reaching more consumers with quality baked goods made with American wheat,” Chung said. “We plan to offer a course that addresses all of these details, and from the conversations we’ve had, there’s huge interest everywhere.”