Bread is one of the most popular foods around the world.
Typically made from wheat (or alternative grains), yeast, and other ingredients, bread stays fresh for a short period before it starts to go bad.
It may even grow mold and become unsafe to eat, so knowing how to keep it fresh for as long as possible is helpful.
This article explains how long bread typically lasts, how to tell whether it’s safe to eat, and how to increase its shelf life.
What is the shelf life of bread?
Many factors influence bread’s shelf life, which is the length of time it lasts before starting to go bad.
The shelf life of bread kept at room temperature ranges from 3–7 days but may vary depending on ingredients, type of bread, and storage method.
Type of bread and ingredients used
Sandwich, loaf, or bakery bread available at the store often contains preservatives to prevent mold and increase shelf life. Without preservatives, bread lasts 3–4 days at room temperature.
Some common bread preservatives include calcium propionate, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, and sorbic acid. Lactic acid bacteria is an alternative that naturally produces anti-mold acids.
Gluten-free bread is more susceptible to mold due to its higher moisture content and limited use of preservatives. This is why it’s usually sold frozen instead of at room temperature.
On the other hand, dried bread products, such as breadcrumbs or crackers, usually stay safe the longest because mold needs moisture to grow.
Refrigerated dough for biscuits and rolls also eventually spoils because it contains oils that go rancid.
Notably, most homemade bread doesn’t contain preservatives and may use perishable ingredients like eggs and milk. Some bakeries likewise avoid preservatives — you can check the ingredient list or ask the baker if unsure.
The shelf life of bread also depends on the storage method.
Bread is more likely to spoil if stored in warm, moist environments. It should be sealed at room temperature or colder to prevent mold.
Room-temperature bread typically lasts 3–4 days if it’s homemade or up to 7 days if it’s store-bought.
Refrigeration can increase the shelf life of both commercial and homemade bread by 3–5 days. If you choose this route, ensure your bread is sealed well to prevent drying and that there’s no visible moisture in the packaging.
Frozen bread may last up to 6 months. Although freezing may not kill all dangerous compounds, it will stop them from growing.
Summary: Bread’s shelf life largely depends on its ingredients and the storage method. You can boost shelf life by refrigerating or freezing it.
How to tell if bread has gone bad
Although many packaged foods have an expiration date, most bread has a best-by date instead, which denotes how long your bread will stay fresh.
Yet, best-by dates aren’t mandatory and don’t indicate safety. This means that bread may still be safe to eat even after its best-by date.
To determine whether your bread is fresh or spoiled, you should examine it yourself.
A few indications that bread is no longer fresh include:
- Mold. Mold is a fungus that absorbs nutrients in bread and grows spores, producing fuzzy spots that may be green, black, white, or even pink. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends discarding the whole loaf if you see mold.
- Unpleasant odor. If the bread has visible mold, it’s best not to smell it if its spores are harmful to inhale. If you don’t see mold but notice a strange smell, throwing out the loaf is still best.
- Strange taste. If the bread doesn’t taste right, it’s probably safest to throw it away.
- Hard texture. Bread that isn’t sealed and stored properly can become stale or dry. As long as there’s no mold, stale bread can still be eaten — but it may not taste as good as fresh bread.
Summary: Bread has a best-by date instead of an expiration date, but it’s best to examine it yourself to determine whether it’s safe to eat. Throw away bread if it’s moldy or has a strange taste or smell.
Risks of eating expired bread
Although some types of mold may be safe to consume, it’s impossible to tell which fungus is causing the mold on your bread. Therefore, it’s best not to eat moldy bread, as it could harm your health.
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The most common bread molds are Rhizopus, Penicillium, Aspergillus, Mucor, and Fusarium.
Some molds produce mycotoxins, poisons that can be dangerous to eat or inhale. Mycotoxins may spread through an entire loaf, so throw out the whole loaf if you see mold.
Mycotoxins can upset your stomach and cause digestive problems. They may also disrupt your gut bacteria, leading to a weakened immune system and a higher risk of illness.
What’s more, some mycotoxins, such as aflatoxin, may increase your risk of certain cancers if you eat a large amount.
Summary: Moldy bread may produce mycotoxins, invisible poisons that are unsafe to eat. It’s best to throw away the whole loaf if you see any mold.
Tips for preventing bread waste
If you want to reduce food waste, you may wonder how to avoid discarding old bread.
Scraping off mold is not recommended, as it may have spread throughout the loaf.
Instead, here are some ideas to help prevent bread waste before your loaf gets moldy:
- Make homemade croutons, crackers, bread pudding, or breadcrumbs to use up bread before its best-by date.
- Properly seal and store any leftover bread in your freezer.
- If you see moisture inside your bread packaging, use a clean towel to dry it before resealing the bag. This will help prevent mold.
- Wait to cover or seal freshly baked bread until it’s completely cool. This will prevent moisture from accumulating and promoting mold.
- If you don’t want to freeze your bread, calculate how much you eat in a week and only purchase that amount. This way, you won’t have any to throw away.
Summary: To prevent bread waste, use old bread to make breadcrumbs or bread pudding. You can also increase shelf life by freezing or keeping bread dry and well-sealed.
Bread has a short shelf life, lasting just 3–7 days at room temperature.
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Proper sealing and storage and using the refrigerator or freezer when needed can help prevent mold and increase shelf life.
If you see mold, throw away the whole loaf, as mold can produce harmful mycotoxins.
To prevent food waste, try creatively using your old loaves — such as making bread pudding or homemade croutons — before their best-by date.