Ensuring product consistency and shelf life is a complex equation. It goes beyond preservative use: It’s about evaluating the environment and ingredients to guarantee a carefully crafted, consistent product—every time.
Balthazar Bakery in Englewood, New Jersey, bakes breads and pastries 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and then delivers them to New York area restaurants, cafes, hotels and markets. Over Balthazar’s 20-year history, the baking team has perfected techniques for keeping its products uniform and fresh. That starts with meticulous oversight and quality assurance. “We have 24-hour supervision in all the production departments,” says Head Baker Paula Oland. “There’s just constant quality check.”
While 24/7 operations and oversight may not be feasible for all manufacturers, there are still many steps bakery businesses can take to extend shelf life and maintain product consistency.
While some may think small daily batches are the key to better shelf life, that changeover can actually mean a less consistent and uniform product, as well as higher costs. “Instead of producing batches of product A every day of the week, do it just on Monday, Wednesday and Friday in bigger batches,” says Lin Carson, founder and CEO of BAKERpedia, an online resource for bakers.
Because this approach can lead to more complex production schedules, Carson recommends enlisting the help of a pro: “If you don’t already have a production planner tasked with improving operations, that’s a start,” she says.
Along with a more disciplined production process, it’s important for manufacturers to understand their ingredients. While it’s harder to extend the life span of fresh products like croissants and pastries, it’s simpler with denser items like cakes, muffins and sweet rolls. “Anything with high sugar content is easier to produce and develop for a longer shelf life,” Carson says.
To prevent mold growth, Carson recommends bakers try using cultured wheat or calcium propionate. Additives may change products’ texture, though, so bakers should conduct small-batch testing before implementing recipe changes across the board.
Carson also cautions bakers to keep an eye on moisture: “Don’t bake out the goods so much that you lose all the water,” she says. “Leave some water in there, trim the bake time and consider adding other ingredients like honey or fiber or some natural juice extracts—anything that will help keep your product softer, longer.”
To further maximize shelf life and consistency, as well as avoid the costs and complexities of working with scratch ingredients, baked good manufacturers can use high-quality cake, donut and pastry mixes.
In addition to ingredients and processes, Carson encourages bakery operations to consider their facility’s role in quality. “Approach it from a sanitation point of view,” she says. “Clean and sanitize your workplaces, your air filters—all of that will reduce mold spores and contamination.”
Along with a well-managed operation, Balthazar recognizes that shelf life success also means partnering with the right cafes and shops to make sure products are being handled, stored and discarded properly. “A lot of our focus is education—dealing with the people in the stores and making sure they can make use of what we have,” says Oland.
As Balthazar researches potential product formulas for a new line of baked goods, it’s also considering new approaches to packaging, which can play a significant role in product life span. For example, the bakery is exploring baking its new line in individual molds that will also serve as the packaging the products will be sold in, which could protect against evaporation.
In the quest for product consistency and extended freshness, maximizing processes, ingredients and storage is key.