Show me someone who doesn’t like bread, and I’ll show you an alien. Okay, maybe not an alien, I guess some people are intolerant to wheat, but bread is one of the staples of the western diet. Bread also appears in various forms around the world, from Ethipia’s injera to Turkey’s pide to Germany’s pumpernickel. We’ve all combined flour, water and yeast, plus a few added extras in some cases, to create a kind of bread.
Bread is so important, in fact, that it makes a guest appearance in a lot of important mythology, and in Britain’s formational legal document the magna carta. When high-fallutin types refer to bread, it sometimes works as a metaphor for food in general. ‘Give us each day our daily bread’, for example. I mean no one JUST eats bread right?
What I’m saying, in a weirdly long winded way, is that bread is really flipping important. It’s portable, goes with everything and is easy to make from few ingredients. Though getting sourdough perfect, as we all know in a post-bak off and covid-lockdown world, can be tricky.
No matter what kind of bread you have in the house, there’s bound to come a time when you’ve ended up with too much. So in this article I’m going to looking into how long bread lasts, and if bread can go bad.
I’ll also cover how to tell if bread is bad and how to keep bread fresh as long as possible. First, though, I’ll run through a few common types of bread. Of course, all bread keeps differently and different types of bread go bad at different rates. I’ll discuss the norms for both store bought and home made bread, and mention a few interesting outliers, but if I just talk about default ‘bread’ you can assume I mean a modern American storebought loaf.
Table of Contents
Types of Bread
Of course I can’t go into every type of bread eaten worldwide here. I suspect that might take a lifetime of research. Nor can I even go into every bread available at a good grocery store. But I’m going to give you a rundown of a few US favorites, with a very basic estimate of how long they will remain edible.
Sliced bread, white or wheat: 5-7 days in the pantry
Homemade white or wheat: 3-5 days in the pantry
Gluten free bread: 3 days in the pantry
Sourdough: 7-9 days in the pantry
Flour Tortillas: up to 7 days in the pantry
Corn Tortillas: up to 10 days in the pantry
Challa: up to 5 days in the pantry
French bread: up to 3 days in the pantry
High-percentage rye: up to 14 days in the pantry
Can Bread go Bad
Of course, bread can go bad. No doubt you’ve experienced it yourself, that little bit of mould on the crust you almost don’t notice until it’s too late!
Commercial slices of bread last quite a long time in a cool, dark place like a breadbin, a pantry or in some limited cases the fridge or freezer. Many of these breads contain preservatives to prolong their shelf life. These include sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate and sorbic acid. Even though store-bought bread doesn’t go bad quickly, it does deplete in quality before becoming inedible so check your bread before you use it.
As it has a high moisture content, gluten free bread goes bad in just a couple of days. Likewise, homemade breads that include eggs or milk go bad quickly because of these perishable ingredients.
Finally, when bread is left out it goes stale rather than actually going bad. This is simply a way of saying that the bread dries out. Have you ever left the bag open and ended up with a slice or two of bread as hard as a tennis racket? You could technically eat it, it wouldn’t hurt you, but you might lose a filling. With unsliced bread the whole loaf sometimes goes hard, which can be extremely irritating if you’re looking for a slice of toast in the morning!
There are plenty of uses for bread that’s a bit stale, though, some of which I’ll go into at the end of this article, so don’t despair if someone in the house has left the bread untied over night.
How to Store Bread
Bread should be stored in a cool, dry place. This is really important with bread (I know it’s the advice for most foods) because moisture and warmth both encourage the growth of mould on bread.
Traditionally, bread is stored in bread bins which actually work reall well to this day. Heavy-lidded breadbins are particularly effective as they keep most air out.
Whether you store your bread in a breadbin, pantry or cupboard you should also wrap it up. Commercial bread that comes in a bag can simply be resealed tightly. Unsliced bread may last a little longer than sliced because if there is any accidental exposure to oxygen, less surface area gets damaged. That being said, if you let a whole loaf go a little stale, cutting it can be a nightmare.
Homemade bread is more of a nuanced issue. If you want it to last as long as possible, wrap it in plastic. If you want it to stay as soft as possible, wrap it tightly in a clean teatowel. It may not last as long, but it will be fresh-tasting for longer.
You can keep bread from going bad for a few extra days by keeping it in the fridge. If you put bread in the fridge, though, you really must make sure it is properly wrapped and that your fridge is clean and not overly damp. Bread absorbs moisture, and could also absorb any unpleasant smells that a less-than-clean fridge might harbor.
Refrigerating bread, especially fresh bread, can change the loaf’s texture. It will still be edible after this change, but may taste tighter or more crumbly.
Can You Freeze Bread?
Freezing bread is one of those things many couples argue about. Does it just take up freezer space? Is it the same afterwards? Is it worth it?
Going by my research and personal experience, freezing bread is a great way to store it. So you can all stop your arguing now!
In the freezer, bread will last 3 months at best quality and will remain edible longer.
If you have a large family or a lot of roommates and you get through bread quickly, then you can freeze whole loaves. If not, freeze sliced bread so you can take out what you need on a given day.
Homemade bread is best frozen a maximum of 3 days after baking. Store-bought can be frozen at any time, but remember that the freezer won’t fix it if it’s on the turn. Do you want to defrost slightly musty bread in three months time?
Before freezing bread seal it carefully in heavy duty freezer bags. You don’t want any air to get in, and you also want to avoid freezer burn. This is a real danger if you’re freezing sliced bread and will be in and out of that bag repeatedly. Remember to seal it tight every time, even when you’re half awake and grabbing bread for breakfast!
A loaf will have to be left out for a day to defrost, while slices will defrost much quicker especially if you can separate them. You can also toast sliced bread straight from frozen, making the freezer a great bread storage option for single people and couples who get through a loaf a couple of slices of toast at a time!
How Long Does Bread Last?
It is easy to tell if bread is bad, and how long it lasts really depends on its environment so be sure to check your loaf if you think it might have gone off.
Ballpark figures for bread shelf life if it is kept in the pantry are:
Store-bought bread: one week
Homemade bread: 3-5 days
Kept in the fridge carefully wrapped:
Store-bought bread: 10-12 days
Homemade bread: 5-7 days
In the freezer, most bread should stay at best quality for about 3 months. It will remain edible for several months beyone this point.
How to Tell if Bread is Bad
Bread is a great breeding ground for mould, so that’s one of the key indicators when it goes bad. Mould on bread may be gray, green or even black. It can start in really tiny patches on individual slices so check carefully if you have suspicions that the bread is off.
If mould is present anywhere on your bread, chuck the whole loaf. As bread is porus and has a high moisture content, mould spreads easily and sometimes invisibly.
If your bread smells bad, particularly if it smells vinegary, it is probably past its best. Don’t give bread with visible mould a sniff check, though, the mould may be harmful if inhaled.
As with all foods, if your bread tastes weird why risk it. Chuck it in the trash.
Finally, your bread may go hard if exposed to air. Stale bread won’t hurt you, but it isn’t exactly pleasant. Some ideas on what to do with it below, though!
What to do With Too Much Bread
Uh oh, everyone in the house bought bread on the way home? Or someone watched The Great Britsh Baking Show and got over excited?
However you ended up with a glut of bread, there are lots of inventive ways to use it up before it goes bad. And remember, bread freezes really well too.
If you don’t have a lot of freezer space, bread is basically suitable for every meal: French toast for breakfast, top a soup with gorgeous croutons or a French-onion style cheese and bread top, mix it into meatballs for dinner.
Even if your bread is a bit stale, you can use it to make breadcrumbs (which can be frozen for later use), panzanella style salads or even a berry-heavy summer pudding or hearty and comforting bread pudding (that’s one for the bakers)!
So, you should keep your bread fresh as long as possible by storing it well, but if it’s on the turn there’s plenty of recipes it will still shine in.