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Mother’s little helper? Microwave zap prevents bread mold

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Estimates from the Natural Resources Defense Council this year indicated that in 2008, in-store food losses in the US totaled an estimated 43 billion pounds – 10 percent of all foods supplied to retail outlets – most of which are perishables, including bread.

Unrefrigerated bread in plastic packaging will succumb to mold in about 10 days, so keeping mold at bay for 60 days presents a fresh proposition.

Not so fast, says Ruth MacDonald, professor and chair of food science and human nutrition at Iowa State University. There are thousands of airborne mold spores everywhere, she said, adding that though bread producers might like the technology for storage and transportation, those spores are problematic at home.

"Once you open (the bag of bread), all bets are off," she said.

Mold is a type of fungus that forms because bread wrapped in plastic packaging still has water inside it. When that trapped water begins to evaporate inside the bag, the bread's surface becomes moist, creating the ideal environment for mold.

Researchers with the university tested the MicroZap on three different mold types on breads inside plastic bags with twist ties, and the microwaves destroyed each one.

But there are characteristics that the zapping won't improve; it won't keep bread from going stale. As for touch, firmness and flavor after 60 days, one scientist had his doubts.

"There would certainly be some questions that I would have around the texture of the bread holding for 60 days," said Brian Strouts, head of experimental baking for the Manhattan, Kan.-based nonprofit American Institute of Baking. "It would not be the answer to all the problems with baked goods. There's a lot of things that can start happening," including bread becoming rancid.

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