Some wholemeal flour we have had in stock for a while has passed its useby date Can we still use it

The quality of all flours changes with storage time; in some cases the changes may be advantageous and in others detrimental. Wholemeal flour has a higher lipid content than white flours and is more prone to problems associated with rancidity. The low moisture content and water activity of wholemeal flour will ensure that microbial spoilage is unlikely to occur. There is a potential for rancidity from enzyme-catalysed changes in the flour oil and this is a key factor in limiting its shelf-life. The other point to consider is the potential for insect infestation. We recommend that you do not use the wholemeal flour in question and try to implement more strict control on your flour stocks to avoid a similar problem in future.

Most of the studies in the long-term storage changes in flour have used white flours. As storage time increases, the breadmaking potential of white flours changes and a progressive loss of volume in the final product is likely. Such changes take place slowly and appear to be associated with changes in the flour lipid composition and in particular with the release of free fatty acids (Bell et al., 1980). The loss of volume may be overcome with the addition of extra fat or some other form of lipid, e.g. emulsifiers (Bell et al., 1976, 1980). The restoration of the breadmaking potential of white flours through the addition of a suitable lipid, e.g. higher levels of breadmaking fat or a suitable emulsifier, could be achieved with white flours even after they had been stored for 48 months (Collins et al., 1992).

Historically, long-term storage of flours has been used to enhance the baking performance of flours. This appears to be in contradiction to the findings described above, but it should noted that there has been a fundamental change in breadmaking processes in the last 100 years with a move from bulk fermentation to no-time dough systems. With the latter breadmaking systems, the role of fat in assisting gas retention is more critical and this may account for the apparent reversal of the storage effects.

The cakemaking qualities of flours are also considered to improve with long-term storage and some natural bleaching appears to occur.

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