Keeping bread fresh for longer
Sorbic acid approved in SA for bread!
Some 10 years after CODEX and the EU approved the use of sorbic acid as a preservative for breads (bakery wares in CODEX terminology), the South African Department of Health followed suit in June 2020.
This opens a whole new vista for shelf-life, supply logistics and reduction of food waste. It was particularly timely in terms of the COVID-19 disruption of logistics and changes in shopping habits.
For many decades, calcium propionate has been the sole preservative permitted in breads. While effective to an extent, this preservative has a strong smell and taste, particularly at higher dosage levels, and so has had an upper use limit that has given bread a fairly standard +/- 5 day shelf life in the context of typical SA summer conditions.
When lower levels of propionate are used in combination with sorbic, bread can now be mould-free for 7-10 days at standard recommended dosages, although in some other countries and using very high dosages, even 30 days has been achieved.
The implications for distribution, the cost of returns and consumer satisfaction are clear and financially huge.
For example, returns from supermarkets due to BB dates or mould will be greatly reduced, even by a few extra days of shelf life. Wherever incurred, returns are a huge cost to bakeries as a finished loaf is not just its ingredients, but also its packaging, handling, delivery costs and administration costs.
If the bread is simply discarded by the retailers, then this is wasting food in a country with high unemployment and growing hunger.
Retailers report a tendency for consumers to pay less frequent visits to stores due to COVID-19, meaning that longer bread shelf-life post-purchase is critical.
In terms of delivery costs, bread is of course a high volume/low value per kg product that must be delivered frequently. If a delivery cycle can move from daily to every other day, the delivery fleet is effectively doubled without any capital expenditure.
Why was sorbic acid not approved before, although it approved for high use in almost every important food category including bakery confectionery (cakes, etc)? This is because sorbic acid has a much greater negative impact on yeast than calcium propionate, which only inhibits yeast. So sorbic could not be used in breads until it was put into a format that kept it away from yeast – Controlled Release or Encapsulated Sorbic.
One of the early pioneers of this technology was the UK-based company Taste Tech, which was founded specifically for controlled-release applications. Taste Tech manufactures SorbicPlus, which is 50% sorbic acid isolated from yeast by a fat/mineral complex. This complex melts only during baking releasing the sorbic only after the yeast has finished all of its work – which points out another aspect of interest. If propionate with its yeast-inhibition effect is reduced enough in a recipe, then the yeast becomes more active. In some countries, the result is using 10-30% less yeast to obtain the same volume in a loaf.
Some bakeries also say that this effect improves crumb structure and overall bread texture.
It goes without saying that sorbic is highly effective in eliminating rope.
Controlled Release Sorbic is more expensive to use than calcium propionate, so it will not replace the traditional preservative. Instead, bakeries can vary the ratio of the two according to what works best for them in terms of Best Before goals, distribution chains and costs. A starting point in most loaf bread is 0.3% Calcium Propionate and 0.3% SorbicPlus. This has been shown to deliver the 7-10 days of mould-free shelf life.
The exclusive agent for Taste Tech in sub-Saharan Africa is Cape Food Ingredients, which has held the agency for over 15 years and has sold SorbicPlus for many years in other African countries.
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