Whoever coined the expression “the best thing since sliced bread” must have worked for the plastics industry. According to the American Scientist article Twists, Tags, and Ties excerpted in The Encyclopedia Britannica Online,
A machine to slice an entire loaf of bread in a single operation was invented by Otto Rohwedder, of Davenport, Iowa, who applied for a patent in 1928. Unfortunately, once a loaf is sliced, it does not remain fresh for very long, unless air is kept from it. In the 1930s, sliced loaves came wrapped in wax paper (and later cellophane) with the folded-over ends sealed with glued-on labels. This kept the bread flesh until the package was opened, but then it was not easily resealed. The polyethylene bag [developed in the mid 50's] clearly solved that problem, because it could be closed, opened and reclosed easily with a twist tie.
Hazards of plastic bread bag closures.
What’s more, according to the same article, twist ties are often coated with PVC, one of the worst plastics.
Besides twist ties, many bread bags today are held shut by plastic bread clips, those flat little squares with a hole in the middle that I find scattered all over the ground near Lake Merritt here in Oakland. Kind-hearted people bring bread to feed the ducks and leave a trail of bread clips behind. In addition to harming wildlife, those bread clips have recently been found inside the gastrointestinal tracts of older humans! In a 2000 article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal [pdf file],
People older than 60 years of age who have either partial or full dentures seem to be particularly at risk for the accidental ingestion of these devices. If accidentally ingested, plastic bread-bag clips represent a significant health hazard. As the population ages, small-bowel perforation secondary to ingestion of such clips may occur with increasing frequency.
How people are swallowing them, I don’t know. I’m guessing maybe they are holding the clip in their mouths while taking the bread out of the bag. A less likely scenario might be somehow letting the clip fall into a sandwich and not realizing it’s there. The article doesn’t explain why people are eating bread clips, but it does go into graphic detail about the horrible things that happen in their intestines afterwards. Perhaps we are no different from hungry albatrosses.
Just say no to plastic bread bags, twist ties, and bread clips.
I realize many people now are opting to make their own bread as an alternative to store-bought bread in plastic bags. But I don’t have a bread machine. Nor do I have the will to make bread the old fashioned way, although my friend Mark does it all the time. And since Oakland has several great little bakeries selling fresh bread, why not support them? Here’s what I do:
1) Take my reusable cloth bag to the bakery and ask to have my (unsliced!) bread placed directly inside it.
2) Bring the bread home. Slice a piece and eat it. Yum!
3) Return the remaining unsliced loaf to the cloth bag and store it in an airtight tin.
My tin came from the Popcorn Factory — a gift from my dad. But any kind of tin or bread box will work, as long as the lid fits tightly enough to keep air out. Thrift stores are often the recipients of unwanted tins once the original contents have been consumed. I find that my bread will last, and stay soft, up to about two weeks in the tin. Depending on your climate, the length of time will vary. Those in more humid regions may not be able to keep it as long before it grows mold.
That’s it. For the longest time, even after beginning to remove plastic from my life, I kept one plastic grocery bag to wrap around my cloth-wrapped bread in the refrigerator. I reused that grocery bag over and over again. And I always felt there had to be another way. So I asked myself the question that I am constantly pondering: how did they do it in the old days?
Do you have other suggestions about storing bread? I’d love to hear them.