Bakers Journal

Stalling the Staling

March 28, 2011
By Julie Fitz-Gerald

With commodity prices climbing, it’s particularly imperative to find inventive ways to keep your costs down.

With commodity prices climbing, it’s particularly imperative to find inventive ways to keep your costs down. One way bakery owners can make big savings is by controlling staling products. By keeping food waste to a minimum, owners avoid having to toss money in the form of unsold goodies into the garbage bin. Here are a few simple ways to keep more cash in your pocket and fewer products from the dumpster.

First, consider repurposing or recycling baked goods that are beginning to stale. Unsold loaves of bread can be sliced, sprinkled with olive oil and salt, baked, and turned into crisps for dipping, croutons for salads or even bread crumbs. Douglas Smith, professor of Baking and Pastry Arts at Humber College Institute of Technology & Advanced Learning, says that during his years as a pastry chef in large hotels around the world, it was common to repurpose certain items.

“If I had plain sponge cakes and I couldn’t reuse them because they were going stale, I would put them in the oven, finish drying them and make cake crumbs out of them. Then I could use the cake crumbs in apple strudel, for example. That’s very acceptable,” he says, adding that, “As long as it has the quality level that I’m pleased with, that I’m willing to pass on to my customers, then absolutely, repurposing is a good thing.”

Particularly now, at a time when the rise in ingredient costs is hard to predict, repurposing products simply makes good business sense.

“A business is a business. You need to survive in this industry and it’s one of the toughest ones to survive in. If you can do something, and that’s not to say taking shortcuts or cheating the customer, but if you can reuse something in a sanitary and hygienic way, then absolutely, I would not object to that,” Smith says.

While some may worry that a repurposed product will have a shorter shelf life, Smith says it’s a non-issue, because fresh new ingredients have been added.

“You’re adding other components to that recipe, you’re adding other moisturizing agents and that’s going to keep your product moist. You’re reinventing that product; you’re giving it a second life.”

The second tip for keeping staling products to a minimum within your bakery is to extend the shelf life. Andrea Gibson is co-owner of Fred’s Bread, a wholesale bakery that operates seven days a week, 365 days a year, with 2,000 kilograms of artisan breads baking daily in the ovens. With more than 60 varieties of breads and a large production line, Gibson has found natural ways to extend the shelf life of her products through moisture retention.

“All of our products, with the exception of the flatbreads and crostinis, contain a portion of pre-ferment, or sourdough starter, which slows down the whole process by allowing moisture and lactic acid to develop. That provides great moisture and flavour in a product as well as great texture, so that you do not have to add preservatives or additives, so that’s the way we extend shelf life.”

Smith also feels that retaining moisture in a product is a sure-fire way to extend shelf life and delay staling.

“The higher percentage of fat and sugar in a baked product is going to retain the moisture of that product for a greater length of time, so any type of fat and sugar keeps moisture in the product.”

Another crucial way to extend the shelf life of your products is to store them properly. While storage techniques vary depending on the product, Smith emphasizes that “it’s common storage sense. You need to make sure that you’re aware of how to properly store and handle perishable items, and if you follow that protocol, you’re not going to have this excess amount of wastage.”

Gibson agrees that knowing how to properly store a product is important for getting the maximum shelf life possible. Specifically for storing bread, she says, “The whole process of staling is actually sped up when you put bread in plastic. It’s like creating a little steam box, because once bread is cooled, the moisture starts migrating slowly out of the product. If you trap the moisture that’s migrating out of the bread as it sits, you’re causing condensation which sped up the whole process and actually causes the product to stale faster and lose its good qualities.”

Gibson suggests that the best option for storing bread is to wrap it tightly in paper and keep it at room temperature.

The third tip to reduce staling products within your bakery is to closely track production to ensure it does not exceed customer demand. Some bakeries do this weekly, while others consider it so important that it’s reviewed daily.

“It’s really planning and control on production,” says Gibson. “We do have occasional overruns, but it’s planning every day and making sure that [overruns] don’t creep up. We review every single day, so if I’m not here my manager does it and if it’s not him it’s a shift supervisor who’s reviewing every day.”

Smith agrees, noting, “You need to know your market forecast, you need to know your customers . . . . It’s a matter of being knowledgeable of your consumer market, what you could and what you should prepare in quantity so that you don’t have any excess.”

By extending the shelf life of your mouth-watering goodies and closely monitoring production in relation to customer demand, you can significantly limit the number of staling products within your bakery. Day-old goods no longer have to mean a loss in profit for your business. If you do find unsold products sitting on your shelf at day’s end, don’t be afraid to let your creative juices flow. You just may find a delicious new life for these castaways, much to the delight of your bottom line.

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