If we could have it our way, we'd be living in a quaint French village where we could walk to the neighborhood boulangerie and buy fresh bread daily. But, alas, the reality for most of us is that we're lucky if we snag the good sourdough during our weekly trip to the grocery store.
Although nothing rivals buying (or baking) bread every day—especially if it includes living in France—you can prolong the quality of your bread by storing it properly. Below, we'll go over the shelf life of bread, our favorite methods of storing it and what to do when your bread gets old.
What Is the Shelf Life of Bread?
In general, commercially baked bread will keep for two to four days at room temperature, according to the USDA. However, the type of bread, how it's stored and the surrounding climate will determine exactly how long a loaf will last before it starts to spoil or get stale.
Breads that are made commercially will last longer than homemade ones. This is because many of those breads contain preservatives. There are also breads that have naturally occurring preservatives, like sourdough, which contains lactic acid—an agent that helps prevent bread from going stale and growing mold. Dense breads, such as rye bread, will also last longer (since it's more difficult for air and the contaminants that may be in it to penetrate, and because many molds need air to grow).
Properly storing your bread by wrapping it in a paper bag or freezing it, for example, will also help keep your loaf fresh.
Lastly, the natural climate that you live in will determine how long your bread will last. A humid climate will likely mean that your bread will grow moldy faster (mold loves moisture), while a dry climate will cause your bread to stale more quickly (leaching out its natural moisture).
How to Properly Store Bread
Although there's nothing like tearing into a steaming-hot fresh loaf (especially if it's homemade bread), storing it properly will help you preserve that quality for a few extra days. There are different ways to store bread properly. Below we've highlighted some of our favorites.
Wrap in a Paper Bag or Cotton Cloth
The tricky part about storing bread is trying to keep moisture from evaporating (aka going stale), while also preventing mold from growing. The best way to tackle these two challenges is by wrapping bread in something breathable like a paper bag or cotton cloth. This will keep your bread moist, while also allowing enough air circulation to stop any molds from taking hold. Remember to store your wrapped bread at room temperature, as this will further help preserve your bread from deteriorating.
Invest in a Bread Box
Although plastic bags and airtight containers may seem like a good way to keep your bread from going stale, the lack of airflow will foster an environment for mold growth, because the moisture is contained and mold loves moisture. If you want to put your bread in a container, a bread box is the way to go. A good bread box will keep your bread from drying out but will also allow enough airflow to inhibit any mold from growing. Place your bread box away from hot spots, such as next to your stove or oven. The heat from those appliances fosters microbial (aka mold) growth in bread, causing it to go bad more quickly.
Pro tip: If you wrap your bread in paper and then put it in the bread box, it will further prevent it from going stale.
Freeze Your Bread
If you're not planning on eating your bread within a few days, freeze it! The freezer is your best friend when it comes to preserving the quality and integrity of your bread. Depending on how you plan on eating your loaf of bread, you can either freeze it whole, in quarters or pre-sliced. Whole or quartered bread can be defrosted at room temperature and then eaten as is. Sliced bread should be toasted directly from the freezer.
To freeze your bread, make sure it's at room temperature and then place it in an airtight freezer bag. If you put warm bread inside the freezer bag, the condensation that forms will translate into freezer burn, which will ruin the quality of your bread. When frozen properly, your bread will keep for up to three months, according to the USDA.
Refrigerate with Caution
Refrigerating bread will significantly delay any mold growth, but it will cause your loaf to go stale quicker. This is because the environment inside a refrigerator tends to be dry. However, if you're dealing with commercially made bread, many of them contain preservatives, which will help counteract the refrigerator's harsh climate to a certain extent. We recommend using the fridge only as a last resort and just for a few days. For the best results, tightly wrap your bread in a plastic bag or plastic wrap, which will help keep moisture in.
What to Do with Stale or Moldy Bread
After a certain point, your bread will go bad even if it was stored properly. According to the USDA, If you start to see mold, throw the entire loaf out. Even if you can't see it everywhere, bread is very porous, so the mold has likely contaminated the entire loaf.
In a perfect world, buying or baking fresh bread every morning is ideal. But since that's not practical for most of us, properly storing loaves so they don't become stale or moldy during the week is the next best practice. Our favorite methods include tightly wrapping in a paper bag or cloth, placing inside a good bread box or, for a particularly large loaf, freezing whatever can't be eaten to save it for later. But if all else fails and you end up with a stale loaf, take the opportunity to use it in this Grilled Green Panzanella Salad with Halloumi, White Beans, and Vegetables. Or, if you happen to let some sandwich bread dry out, throw it into this easy Budin de Pan bread pudding recipe.