Supermarket and bakery bread review

Modern bread processing methods have completely changed the way our daily loaf is made.
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03.Preservatives in bread

While emulsifiers and other “improvers” are widely accepted as safe, preservatives are more controversial. Introduced in the 1990s as a mould retardant, calcium propionate, or 282, is the best-known preservative of public concern.

Although approved by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) for use at specified levels, a furore erupted when a study by Sue Dengate of 27 children published in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health in 2002 showed 282 to be associated with irritability, restlessness, inattention and sleep disturbance.

In response to consumer concern, most breadmakers removed 282 from many of their products. Bakers Delight advises it does not use any artificial preservatives, while Brumby’s claims not to use 282 or 223 and to minimise preservatives where it can. Other bread manufacturers, such as Baker’s Life (Aldi), Goodman Fielder and George Weston, advertise on some packaging that they are free of 282, preservatives or artificial preservatives.

However, these companies still use 282 in other products such as crumpets, muffins, Turkish bread and pizza bases. It’s also widely found in wraps. We found 282 in Buttercup Country Split Wholemeal bread, Goodman Fielder’s Helga’s Schinkenbrot loaf and Sandwich Thins, and Country Life Gluten Free Breads.

With 282 a dirty word for some consumers, some breadmakers get around the problem by using its close relative propionic acid (280) instead.

282: Evidence of harm?

The internet is awash with warnings of the dangers of 282 and other food additives, pointing to a cumulative cocktail in the body which can lead to a host of symptoms from migraine and tiredness to rashes, gastro-intestinal upsets and depression.

Propionates (280-283) are on the list of food additives that can be associated with food intolerance in the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Elimination Diet. On her Food Intolerance Network website, Dengate argues that children’s behaviour and learning is more affected than authorities will admit, citing stories from parents who noticed a behavioural improvement when 282 was removed from their child’s diet.

But Dr Rob Loblay, director of the allergy unit at Sydney’s RPA Hospital, argues that about five per cent of the general population is sensitive to one or more food additives, whether artificial or natural, and considers the push to ban additives “overblown”.

“The issue is very complicated,” says Vijay Jayasena, professor of food science and technology at Western Australia’s Curtin University. “The first thing people should know is that not all preservatives are artificial or may cause harm, and many are useful for food safety.”

Jayasena says most people won’t be affected by 282, while for others it’s about dosage. “It’s hard to say at what level 282 may cause a reaction in each individual, because people can have reactions to so many things and at different levels. However, if you’re worried about them you should avoid them.”

Anti-additive campaigners argue that until additives are proved safe, FSANZ should use the precautionary principle where suspect additives are substituted with others that don’t raise health concerns.

If you're worried about preservatives, Jayasena says breads baked daily in-store generally have few, if any, preservatives because any bread not sold is usually thrown out at the end of the day. Check the ingredient labels, or ask the baker what preservatives they use.


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