When originally asked to write a series of articles for this publication, one of the expressions I would have bet I would never use was "I agree with a proposed European Union rule change." What is more, in this instance, I would encourage them to bring it in as quickly as possible.
Many of you will have read in your recent weekend newspapers about how old bakery (and other food items) products can be when sold as "fresh". The title of the article in the Sunday Times was indeed "Ah, the just-baked smell of year-old bread". I don’t intend commenting too much on the Mail article as it did not seem factual, with lines such as "ascorbic acid is a preservative/mould inhibitor" and "bread spends 10 days on a supermarket shelf/or at home". All I would add is that it is disappointing that they couldn’t get the basic facts right, as it devalued the gist of the article, which was generally good.
The Sunday Times article was brought about by a European Information Regulation, published on 11 February, that if a bakery product has been frozen, when presented for sale it should be labelled as "defrosted". It gave various examples of how products sold from a supermarkets’ instore bakery may have been "flashed off" instore or as with many muffins, cookies, etc just defrosted with no heat applied.
I should state here that I am in no way against par-baked products indeed I regularly purchase them. But I am able to make an informed judgement, knowing that the shelf-life will be reduced, having been in the oven twice. For my taste, some of these products are often better than those "scratch"-baked, as they will have been produced in a much slower process with some sponge dough, then wood-fired or stone-baked, for example. Surely this should be about informing the consumer and letting them decide what they wish to purchase.
It was disappointing to read the British Retail Consortium’s opposition to this increased clarity, claiming: "It is not a question of retailers wanting to keep customers in the dark, but if you start listing what products have been previously frozen, is that going to confuse the customers?"
Well excuse my cynicism, but confusing customers is exactly why packs of defrosted muffins, scones, cookies and so forth are displayed with scratch-baked breads and rolls. So the consumer has absolutely no way of knowing what has been baked, flashed-off or defrosted.
I also wonder if this doesn’t create a superb opportunity for craft bakers to shout from the rooftops that their products have been made and baked fresh that day and should justify a premium price.