The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

February 11, 2010

Bread: Buy It, Store It, Keep It Fresh Without Plastic

Wonder BreadWhoever 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.

Bread bag clipsBesides 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.

buy bread in cloth bag without plastic

buy bread in cloth bag without plastic

2) Bring the bread home. Slice a piece and eat it. Yum!

fresh bread without plastic

3) Return the remaining unsliced loaf to the cloth bag and store it in an airtight tin.

Metal bread box

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.

You might also enjoy...

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
5 years ago

This is something I am finding really very hard. I have made some great, positive zero waste changes in my life, but bread is difficult. I have coealic disease meaning I need gluten free and live in Germany. I sometimes make my own bread, but I have not found any flour, bread, or bread mix that is plastic free. It is driving me insane. Everything comes in layers of plastic to avoid cross contamination. I am sure in other countries you would be able to find fresh gluten free bread from a lovely artisanal baker, but here is a no-go. I do not eat a lot of bread, and it is not just bread, it is cookies, cake everything and I try to rather find things that are naturally gluten free for my diet. It is part of the reason I started to adopt some more eco-friendly changes in my life in fact, I was simply so sick of all the damn plastic packaging in my food.
Any suggestions welcome!!!

4 years ago
Reply to  Catherinaaa

I learned recently from a presentation from Vandana Shiva an environmental activist, food sovereignty advocate, and author that many people who are allergic to gluten are not allergic to wheat but to wheat that has been changed by genetic modification, which is why only recently do a lot of people have gluten allergies. She said that wheat from ancient grains and non GMO seeds do not cause reactions. Unfortunately, I just learned this so I don’t know where you can buy bread made from that type of flour but I thought you might find it interesting.

5 years ago

I make homemade bread to sell at a farmer’s market (in addition to our family farm’s produce, eggs, and meat). I bake it the day before, let it cool, and put it in bags to keep fresh until sold Saturday mornings. Since it’s a “soft” kind of bread, not crusty or chewy, I feel it needs to be in bags even though it is not sliced when sold. I’m looking at alternatives to plastic bags. Do you think wax paper bags or glassine bags would work to keep the bread soft overnight? I used printed label stickers on the bags and could possibly use those to seal them. (They are required to have a label at our market).

1 year ago
Reply to  Katie

hey there, jumping in 3 years late! but i have an idea in case someone is interested… how about also selling cloth bags and also maybe tins? you could give a small discount if people bring the cloth bag back the next time. maybe the discount could be however much a plastic bag would normally cost you. just an idea :)

Melinda Loustalot
5 years ago

I’m going to visit a couple of nearby Panaderia’s here in my area to see if they’ll sell bread to me in my bag.

Trish S
6 years ago

Ooops! That was very poor grammar! I meant to say, I find that my bakery rolls and bread stay fresh when I ……… . Sorry, I haven’t had my coffee yet!! LOL

Trish S
6 years ago

I find that if I store my bakery rolls and bread stay fresher when I wrap them in paper towels. Then, I keep them in an air tight container away from any heat, or light. They stay “fresh” for at least 3 days. If some don’t “survive”, I make croutons!

Paul K
6 years ago

I’ve occasionally stored my fresh-baked bread, after it has cooled completely, in a crockpot, a Dutch oven, a cookie jar, and a large flour canister. A vented container would seem to be necessary only if the loaf is still warm and therefore producing water vapor, which can condense on the walls of a container and make the outside of the loaf wet in places.

7 years ago

I make my own bread most of the time, with a recipe that produces three loaves. I store two in the freezer (cloth bags) and I store the third under a cake dome. The base broke, but the top is intact. So I simply place the loaf on a marble board and the dome on top. It stays moist but does not get moldy.

7 years ago

Cloth bread bags??..

8 years ago

I just started the process of trying to go plastic free after switching to a plant based diet in january. But the further I get the more frustrated I am feeling. Is there really anyway to be plastic FREE? I make my bread, followed your wonderful tip to store in a bread bag. made one, and it works wonderfully. I made a beeswax impregnated cloth to replace plastic wrap. i store my refridgerator things in glass bowls with dishes as a lid. I bought a glass pitcher to replace my plastic. But now comes the hard part. I bought a glass canister yesterday for flour, oats, etc. But then I start thinking. When I buy my flour, oats, sugar etc they come in plastic coated cardboard containers or plastic bags. Sure you can go to a bulk store. But freq these are already bagged in plastic. if they arent I cant imagine they come to that store in large glass or stainless steel containers. If I switch when I get it home, it may help, but really how much? Am I really accomplishing anything after all this effort? My non dairy milk comes in cardboard, nuts in plastic,etc

8 years ago

You must check out Abeego from Victoria, BC on Vancouver Island. Works like a charm!

8 years ago

My mother baked 4 loafs of bread on Saturday for the week. The bread was stored in a metal bread box that had side vents. The vents are necessary to keep the bread from too much moisture. The door to the bread box had a wooden lining which was used to slice the bread on. I have occasionally seen this “bread boxes” in antique stores. The sweet rolls and dinner rolls for Sunday were wrapped overnight in cotton towels made from flour sacks. These towels can be found at Wal Mart and they are all white and called old fashion dish towels. I am recalling the 1950’s.

John T
8 years ago

I make my own bread in six loaf batches and them freeze them (in plastic bags). Any alternative suggestions for storing them in the freezer for about 3 weeks?

9 years ago

Of ALL the suggestions for storing bread that one eats everyday, most of which suggest some form of plastic/synthetic, yours makes the most sense and the one I will try first, albeit in a ceramic rather than metal vessel IF I can find one the lid of which is sealed with a ring made from pure rubber tree latex – a tall order but all thanks to your idea! Thanks(:

10 years ago

I think in the “old days” people did not store bread, they just ate it. Second-day bread became french toast or was dipped in a soup/sauce, and third-day bread became crumbs for stuffing.

10 years ago

Pillow cases can be used as bread bags too :) Put the bread into the pillow case and wrap a soft elastic band around it.

11 years ago

We don’t each enough bread for a whole loaf to last without getting stale or moldy. What I do is buy a loaf of bread from the bakery or farmers market (especially if it’s the end of the day and they’re half off!) take it home and slice it in half. Half, I put in the freezer wrapped in foil-the other half, we keep in a bag (I did re-use plastic ones, but that won’t be the case anymore!) and slice as needed. When we finish that one, I take the frozen loaf out and just let it defrost on the counter and it’s great!

6 years ago
Reply to  miranda

well foil is not a great material either!!

11 years ago

I started making the Artisian Bread in 5 minutes which is good for you and frugal (44 cents a loaf) because my husband loves bread. Now I have perfected the sandwich load and I don’t see why I can’t store it in the non-stick metal Pullman pan which has a lid on it. It would be nice to not have to buy a bunch of stuff, but I do not think it is air tight.

perry shimon
11 years ago

Thanks for the article, which effectively highlights two very distinct segments of the population; those trying to eradicate plastics from their lives and those just trying not to swallow the bread clips.

Melissa Brown
12 years ago

Hi Beth, did I read somewhere that you’d transitioned to a bread box for some reason. Is there an update?
Do boxes keep bugs out? I fear the weevil.

12 years ago

Great idea! We do re-use the plastic bags we get storebought bread in. But I’ve been storing my homemade bread in plastic bags that I bought at King Arthur flour, not realizing there were alternatives. I’m going to make some cloth bread bags and see what we can scrounge up for a tin. Also appreciate the reminder to use aluminum foil to freeze loaves.

12 years ago

I’m currently collecting plastic bread tags for a upcycle craft project. If you’re interested in sending them my way instead of the landfills, email me at

Thank you!

joe woo
13 years ago

I recently bought a loaf of Fresh Baked Bread , besides the cost of it the taste is better as well . I slice pieces individually with my electric slicer into various sizes . When done I put bread back into cellophane bag then into a plastic after ridding any air after which I put it in my microwave oven for storage , thats as well is semi- air tight , It works , cost and taste is better .

Pierre-Armand Lalonde
13 years ago

You really want to prevent using breaf tie. They are made out of PVC which is not biodegradeable. Plus the price of recycling this material as gone down so much that nobody wants them anymore. We need to pressure bread companies to use other ways to close bread. See this Facebook page (mostly french) for more info. !/pages/Attaches/278592371161

13 years ago

Wouldn’t the tins be lined with BPA also? I mean, if they’re more recent tins?

Thank you for the post, though. I was wondering how to handle this. :D

13 years ago

I store my bread in my tummy!

Fresh, crusty bread never lasts long enough in our house for us to need any type of storage! Yum!

13 years ago

Of late, I’ve been buying bread at a discount food store — Pepperidge Farms brand — which I don’t feel as bad about.

When I bake bread at home or buy an “artisan” loaf, though, we cut off a slice at a time, and then store the bread cut-side-down on a cutting board on the counter. The bread inside stays soft, and the outside stays crunchy. :)

13 years ago

This is fantastic! Thank you Beth! I’ve been thinking about tins and cloth bags, but it is so encouraging to hear that it actually WORKS! Thank you!

13 years ago

What a great use for the Popcorn Factory tins! Mine usually end up as wastebaskets or reused the following Christmas as gift wrapping.

Now you’ve got me wanting to bake bread.

13 years ago

Hi Beth! I haven’t looked at your blog in a while. It is really great and fun to read. We happen to have a really old house with big metal lined drawers that I think were intended for dry goods, so we put our bread in there and it stays pretty fresh. We buy our bread from several of the great bakeries in Berkeley and usually eat it right away, so it doesn’t have much of a chance to go stale and we try to re-use the paper bags over and over again. Just say “no” to plastic!

13 years ago

“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.”

Build a bigger audience. Include the gore!

13 years ago

Hey beth,
I’ve just started making my own bread myself. Over the summer holidays my Nan taught be how to make Maori Rewana bread, which is sorta like a sourdough bread. It’s really easy once you’ve got the bug going and the process right.

Coming from a humid area on the east coast of New Zealand, I usually keep it in the fridge wrapped in a tea towel or used plastic bag. This usually works all good. However, when it does start to get a bit past I find it’s still all good for toast. Microwaving on defrost also helps remoisture the bread.

Sierra Black
13 years ago

SouleMama had a wonderful post last spring with these incredible bread bags that she made with her kids.

I’m not quite as classy and crafty as she is (ok, not at all), but I was inspired by her to start storing our bread in cloth bags. We use the ones from sheet sets. You know, when you buy a sheet set it comes in a little cotton bag? We store bread in them.

Her bread bags are easy to make and beautiful though, if you’re looking for a weekend project.

13 years ago

I have another “bread clip” danger: they break dishwashers! Really! One very expensive service call later, I’ve learned my lesson. Muslin in Tin for me!

Eleanor Sommer
13 years ago

I am so excited to read all these ideas for storing bread. I, too, live in a (mostly) hot, humid climate in Florida, and keeping bread is a nightmare. We like different kinds of bread for different reasons, and so we usually have 2 or even 3 kinds to save from mold.

I feel guilty because I store in plastics bags (and often buy it in plastic bags because that is the only way it comes in some cases. Some of you have inspired me to start backing bread again.

And the tins are a fantastic idea. I will be on the lookout for a breadbox or perhaps I can convince my husband to make us one for us.

13 years ago

I don’t enjoy bread enough or consider it healthful enough to buy it, but I will occasionally bake it for a treat. I keep it in a glass container or wrapped in foil, then store it in the microwave. The latter is largely to preclude feline interference, but I presume it may have some of the qualities of a bread box. I often freeze half wrapped in foil because it is a challenge to eat it all in time.

Susie Collins
13 years ago

Aloha Beth! I bake my own bread and after it cools, I wrap it in a pretty cotton kitchen towel– I have towels dedicated to this use only. When I give loaves away to friends, I give it away in a towel– later the friends usually return the towel, it works out well. I live in high humidity (Hawaii) and the bread stays moist for about five days in the towel. But it’s usually all eaten by then anyway! I’d love to find an old fashioned bread box.

Jay Sinha
13 years ago

Great post, Beth. Yikes, just seeing that Wonder Bread makes me cringe. Your timing is pretty incredible. We just got in a bread bag made of 45% organic cotton, and 55% organic hemp, and it will be available on our website next week. One of the coolest features of them is that they are made locally by our belly dancing friend, Tracy. We’ve been trying one out ourselves and it keeps the bread nicely crisp on the outside and moist on the inside for a couple of days, but then it does start getting quite hard – great idea to use a tin to retain that moist freshness. We’ll do that. Yes, I totally agree, we have so much to learn from the old days.

13 years ago

I have used just a cloth bag, and it’s good for a day or two (like paper). I never considered putting the cloth bag inside something else, though, that’s a great idea!

13 years ago

I’m with Andrea. Artisan Bread in Five MInutes has changed my bread life, too!

Have been using old reused plastic to store, but will try Beth’s popcorn tin method. I have recently purchased several of them at the local Goodwill for storage and bulk shopping, but hadn’t thought to store bread in them.

13 years ago

@Rob… We bought a bread box and kept forgetting that the bread was in there. When we’d clean it out to start over, our pet bird would take up residence in it and begin to nest.

Our bread now lives in the fridge to keep it lasting longer (and to keep us from forgetting it).

13 years ago

I thought about you and your blog today at work… having a dozen kiddies run up with their valentines in plastic bags (also had that Canvas Bag song playing all day in my head, but that’s another story).

I’m going to have to ask the local bakery about bringing my own “container” for bread. I adore their bread but other than the bird, we don’t eat bread that often so running to the bakery for bread that we would never finish didn’t make sense. I would consider switching and even sharing with the bird if I could get it at the local shop sans plastic. :)

13 years ago

Thanks Beth. I really like the way you have step by step pictures and story. You make it much easier for me take the actions and you make it doable. I very much appreciate what you are doing as I care about nature and want to do my best. I am always trying to think of ways to do things better and you help with your work.

13 years ago

Great idea…now I need to find a niced sized tin. If you ever want to make your own bread this is seriously the easiest and best recipe ever:
Anyone can make it and if you do the large amount then you can create 8 loaves of fresh bread a week. If not it can be stored in your fridge until you use it up. It’s really the best…:)

Thanks again for the great tip!

13 years ago

Great post. Cool idea about the tins! Yesssss!

13 years ago

I have no tricks on keeping bread fresh, Let alone a tupperware (which is not something you would use) . I reuse bags over and over to keep bread fresh. And I keep my bread in a bread box. (as in is it bigger than a) I bought my bread box off of ebay, Because ie reminded me of the one that sat on my grandma’s counter for years. And like grandma I find i keep a variety of items in it! But sadly know no ways to keep bread fresh, other than the ones you already mentioned.

LInda Anderson
13 years ago

I have a bread drawer that is part of my cabinets. It is lined with metal but I don’t think it is air tight so I keep the bread in a —–PLASTIC BAG! I know that is terrible since I blog about getting rid of plastic. I use the same bag all the time, but I need to find a different way to keep bread in the drawer, maybe cloth that is tightly woven. We always make our own bread in a bread machine. When that breaks, I will make it by hand as I use to do 15 years ago.

13 years ago

How weird! I JUST wrote a post about our first attempts at making bread… without ANY mixers. And how happy I was with the process (especially since I am SO far from a baker).
I was thinking about how to preserve my bread without wrapping plastic-saran wrap around it (ick!). I have some cloth that would be perfect and now just need a tin or bread box :)

also- as an aside, in elementary school we had a drive to collect “un million milli” which means 1 million bread bag clips (I went to a French school). It took from grade primary until grade 6 or 8, and then they were all recycled. seriously, I have no idea who thought up the idea on how to teach children the concept of one million….. but counting all those “milli” were a pain in the butt.

at least they were recycled… :S

13 years ago

You never want to store bread in the fridge – either at room temperature, or in the freezer.

I have a friend who goes through very little bread. She buys a loaf, slices it up, then pops all the slices into the freezer. Whenever she wants a slice, she just thaws it out! So clever!

Thrift stores are an awesome place to buy bread machines, too. I bought mine at a thrift store for $7 and WOW have I gotten my money’s worth!

And never use pre-packaged bread machine bread mixes. Always just use flour and yeast and stuff, there are tons of bread machine recipes.

13 years ago

All the bread you get at the local bakeries gets wrapped in paper when you take it home. Everybody I know (including me) always stores bread in a bread box, it works best all around. So I was surprised to read in that wikipedia article that bread boxes “used” to be common. I have one made out of wood (and some plastic :-(); my mother has one made out of some kind of metal. The only household I know that has no breadbox is so big that they eat one loaf per day, thus having no need for it :-) Somtimes we also freeze a loaf, it keeps quite a while.

susanna eve
13 years ago

We have a tin bread box:) I do buy a lot of bread in plastic bags. But there is one local bakery that sells its bread in paper bags at the farmers’ market and in plastic bags in some of the grocery stores. I cannot local non wheat bread except in a plastic bag with a twist tie:( It is almost impossible to get my 18 year old son to eat anything that I am wiling to buy so bread and bagels in plastic bags are not going to be gone from my house anytime soon.
Great post though and I’ll have to see about storing more bread not in plastic. I do freeze a lot of the non wheat bread and I haven’t figured out a way to do that without plastic bags.