In pursuit of baked-product quality
By Gary Tucker - 3 February 2016
The word ‘quality’ means different things to different people, but on the whole, when it comes to buying baked goods, consumers tend to talk about appearance, smell and how ‘fresh’ they perceive the product to be. The consumer is the ultimate judge of quality of baked goods.
Quality is a word that is often used by food manufacturers to entice consumers into buying their products. But the very nature of baked goods and their limited shelf-life means that bakers need to have a thorough understanding of the key factors that influence the quality of their output. The sheer range of baked goods available, from bread and rolls, to muffins, pastries cakes and biscuits, and the number of different ingredients and specialist processes they require, means that ensuring the highest end-product quality can be a challenge for bakers. Raw material quality, equipment efficiency, sanitation and hygiene, as well as bakery staff knowledge and proficiency all have a part to play in achieving quality. Of the many manufacturing processes involved, handling during mixing, fermentation, proving, baking, cooling and storage after production can all have a significant impact on overall final product quality as perceived by the consumer.
Shelf-life is a major concern for all bakers. There are two main elements to this: achieving a mould-free shelf-life (i.e. preventing microbial spoilage of the product) and ensuring a structural shelf-life (e.g. preventing staling). It is important to point of that microbiological spoilage is very unlikely to present a food safety hazard – it primarily impacts on consumers’ perceptions of quality, not least because flavour and odour will be affected, as well as the obvious visual spoilage. Potential mould growth can be minimised by lowering water activity and pH level. A low pH also increases the effectiveness of most of the chemical preservatives used in baking. Calcium propionate is commonly used as an effective preservative in breads and other baked goods because of its ability to inhibit a broad spectrum of moulds and other microorganisms. Sodium propionate and potassium sorbate are also commonly used.
The American Association of Cereal Chemists and AOAC International maintain collections of approved standard methods for testing the quality of baked goods. There are no regulatory requirements to undertake regular monitoring of shelf-life and product stability, but it is good practice to do so. This is particularly the case if any changes have occurred in the bakery, such as product reformulation or a change in ingredients supplier. It is up to the bakers to gauge how varying ingredients and changes to baking procedures will impact on the shelf-life of their products.
Maintaining and improving quality in bakery products can present challenges – so do get in touch to see how we can help.