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A while ago, I obtained, on a Friday afternoon, a bag of pareve rye bread from the supermarket. The ingredient listing was:

high gluten flour, rye flour, water, yeast, salt

The bread was also covered in caraway seeds.

The best before date (or possibly expiry date -- it was not clear to me which) was a week after the date I bought the bread. I am unsure if the bread was released on the same day, since I generally do my grocery shopping on Fridays anyway, but I'm inclined to suspect that it was indeed put on the shelf on the same day I bought it, since I have only ever seen kosher bread sold around the weekends at my supermarket, presumably put there in time for Shabbat.

In any case, I was suspicious of the week-later best before date, since the ingredients listed no obvious preservatives (beyond salt) and the packaging claimed that the bread had no preservatives.

Is this normal "behaviour" for rye bread? Or is this reliant on cooler North American climates and possibly the inclusion of salt? (But I would assume that the salt was merely there to restrict the amount of rising in the dough.) Or perhaps I can assume the label on my bag of bread was wrong?

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    Some rye breads will last weeks. The answer depends on what you have, and how dry it can get before you consider it not good. – Wayfaring Stranger Jun 19 '15 at 11:57
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    What @WayfaringStranger said, though "weeks" is underestimating it. Finnish rye bread was often stored for half a year in the past: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruisreik%C3%A4leip%C3%A4 . I've tasted rye bread that was about five years old, and I dare say it might last for decades. – dancek Jun 29 '15 at 13:11
  • @dancek Your personal experience trumps mine. I'll have to see if I can find some of that Finnish stuff. – Wayfaring Stranger Jun 29 '15 at 13:33
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    @WayfaringStranger here's some dried rye bread available for worldwide shipping: suomikauppa.fi/product_info.php?products_id=42 . They even sell fresh bread, eg. this is what I usually eat for breakfast: suomikauppa.fi/product_info.php?products_id=4207 . Obviously if you want the fresh bread to keep for long, you have to let it dry... – dancek Jun 29 '15 at 18:33
  • Geezus, there are lots of answers and comments. Bottom line is rye bread has a really nice shelf life, even after it's been sliced and opened. I have had it last several weeks on a repeat basis. It doesn't go bad, moldy or stake in that time. Eventually it all gets eaten no matter how long it's been. I don't think I gave ever thrown rye bread out. – Escoce Jun 14 '16 at 22:29
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While legal specifics vary from place to place, the "best before" on a product is often a requirement, but exactly what it is is left up to the manufacturer. In other words, they have to provide one, but it can be anything they want (there may be rules about guaranteeing nutritional content for the duration, if that is subject to degradation). So presumably they want to make it as long as possible, but not too long, because they need to discourage distributors from distributing and consumers from purchasing product which will tarnish the image of their brand.

With bread there are probably three concerns about degradation: drying out, getting stale, and going moldy.

Is this normal "behaviour" for rye bread?

Pure rye breads are made with a sourdough starter and no wheat, so they do not rise to the same extent as normal bread. This is part of why they are more dense and moist. I think the "high gluten flour" ingredient in yours implies it is not pure rye, but it probably still has this advantage over pure wheat. Dense, moist breads stay moist longer versus light, dry breads -- although on the other hand, lighter breads go stale more slowly.1

But more importantly, the sourdough starter is what provides most of the leavening in a pure rye bread, not normal yeast. Sourdough is pre-fermented and acidic, which discourages foreign bacteria and mold from taking hold -- i.e, it is a natural preservative. It is also not an insignificant part of the bread's mass, and the flour in the sourdough starter has undergone chemical changes which make it less likely to give up the water with which it was combined -- hence sourdough based breads are considered to have a longer shelf life than any other bread.

is this reliant on cooler North American climates

Rye is a northern grain, which is why rye bread is associated with northern cultures. However, I think the logic of rye flour + sourdough starter will hold regardless of climate.


1. Staling, a gradual hardening, is not the same thing as drying, since moist bread may become stale (and attempts to keep bread moist will not prevent staling). Also, stale bread may be made less stale by heating it. This is because "staleness" is actually a crystallization in the starches.

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Bread is a shelf stable food. lasts indefinitely food safety wise, and this has nothing to do with preservatives. It is simply dry enough to last. So the date on it doesn't matter. We throw out bread when it's too hard to bite into, or repurpose it for something else (breadcrumbs).

The exception is when it's stored under somewhat humid conditions. Then it is prone to get moldy (but still won't be degraded by bacteria). Mold colonization is visible, so you can throw it out when you see it. But it can mold very quickly in the right (wrong?) circumstances, this is not what the date should be based on.

The date you see matters for taste. If it's packaged in plastic, it's also a rough indicator of how likely it is to get moldy in the near future if you leave it in the plastic or if your kitchen is humid. It's not a "throw out by" date. There is nothing to be suspicious of.

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Rye bread will last about 4 to 5 days in the pantry and up to 3 months if you store it in the freezer.

If you store the bread in the freezer at 0°F, it could be stored for much longer. To prevent freezer burn, wrap the entire package with aluminum foil.

Keep as much air out of the bag when not in use and close the bag tightly.

I wouldn't store bread in the refridgerator. It tends to dry up and go stale.

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