How Long Does Bread Last
Bread is probably the most popular food product in the Western hemisphere. We eat it for breakfast, prepare sandwiches for lunch for the kids, and often include it in the last meal of the day too. Despite that, I’m pretty sure you had bread that’s gone stale or even moldy at least a couple of times. That brings us to the question: how long does bread last, exactly?
If you buy your loaves in the supermarket, there’s usually a best-by date on the label, and you can simply observe it. But since you’re reading this article, I’m pretty sure you know that date is only a rough estimate and that it’s usually okay to eat bread that’s technically “old.” Plus if you buy it in a bakery or make your own, there’s no date to go by, so you need to figure this out on your own.
Photo by Kate Remmer on Unsplash.
Unfortunately, there’s no straightforward answer to the question about the shelf life of bread. It all depends on how you store it, what ingredients were used, and if there were any preservatives added. For starters, let’s talk about the ingredients.
There are quite a few bread varieties out there, and I probably don’t know about half of them. I’m also pretty sure you’re not looking for a spreadsheet that lists all of those along with their shelf lives. Instead, let’s make things much more straightforward.
Wheat bread (white, whole wheat, multi-grain, sourdough), in other words “normal” bread, lasts between 4 and 7 days at room temperature (more about other storage options later). “Fancy” bread varieties, such as pumpkin, zucchini, banana, garlic, and many others usually last about 1 to 3 days tops. Of course, these guidelines aren’t perfect, but they work well most of the time and are easy to remember.
Now it’s time to talk about how different storage methods work for bread.
Photo by Louise Lyshøj on Unsplash.
Most of us keep bread on the countertop in the kitchen. Sometimes it sits in a bread bin, but more often than not it’s in the same package you’ve bought it in. In such circumstances “normal” bread should last about 4 to 7 (1) days in pretty good shape.
If you’d like to retain the bread’s quality for longest at ambient temperature, there are a few things you can do:
- if it’s cut or sliced, keep it sliced side down to prevent it from drying out (1), the crust takes care of keeping the moisture in for the rest of the loaf
- use a tightly sealed plastic bag to keep the bread moist for longer, but avoid plastic bags if you like your crust crispy
- consider using a bread bin to help with drying out
- keep around only as many slices as you need for the next 3 to 4 days, and freeze the rest
Storing bread in the fridge is somewhat controversial. Many bakeries and people say it’s a terrible idea because it dries out the loaf quite fast (1) and it becomes stale. But many people swear by it and regularly refrigerate their bread.
What’s sure is that keeping the bread in the fridge changes its texture and most people don’t find it as appealing as it was before refrigeration. But if you never tried refrigerating it, and you typically don’t have much free space in the freezer, giving your fridge a try is well worth it. If it works out, great; if not, at least you know.
Things to keep in mind when refrigerating bread:
- keep it in a properly sealed bag; a resealable freezer bag or its original bag sealed with a clip should do the trick
- heat the bread in a toaster or the oven before eating
When it comes to the shelf life of refrigerated bread, it depends on whom you ask. Generally, “normal” varieties can last between a week and two weeks. Again, your experience may vary, and you need to test this yourself. If it doesn’t work out for you quite as well as it does for some people, freezing is the way to go.
Photo by Bruno Thethe on Unsplash.
I only learned about freezing bread in my late 20’s. And it turns out it’s super useful, at least in our household. In most cases, we buy our bread sliced, leave a bunch of slices on the countertop and freeze the rest. This way we rarely have to deal with a stale or moldy loaf.
If you don’t eat much bread and don’t exactly enjoy going to a bakery or supermarket every three days to buy a small loaf, trying freezing bread should be on top of your todo list. Here are a few pointers you might find useful:
- make sure you seal the bread tightly; a resealable freezer bag or a plastic bag secured with a clip should get the job done
- buy the bread sliced or slice it yourself before freezing; this way you can quickly grab a few slices and put the rest back in the freezer in a matter of seconds
- to enjoy the best quality, defrost only as many slices as you need at a time
- take the bread out of the freezer and separate the slices about 30 minutes before making sandwiches, so it gets to room temperature
- if you’re short on time, warm up the frozen slices in a toaster or the oven; they will be ready to go in a minute or two
- wheat bread lasts about 4 to 7 days at ambient temperature
- bread varieties such as zucchini, garlic, and so on, tend to last about 1 to 3 days at room temp
- store bread sliced side down to keep it from drying out
- if your loaves often go stale or even moldy, try freezing
- freeze it sliced and defrost only as much as you need at a time
- use a toaster or an oven to warm up the slices and have them ready to go within minutes