How long can you eat stale bread?

Eating stale bread is a common occurrence for many people. Bread has a relatively short shelf life and can quickly go stale if not stored properly. But how long is it actually safe to eat bread after it has gone stale? Here is a comprehensive look at how long you can eat stale bread and what effects it has on your health.

What is stale bread?

Bread is considered stale when it has dried out and lost its fresh taste and texture. This happens because bread goes through a chemical change as it ages. When bread is fresh, the starch molecules have a lot of water absorbed in them, which gives bread a soft, spongy texture. As bread sits on the shelf, the starch begins to recrystallize and the water separates from the starch. This causes bread to become dry, hard, and crumbly.

The exact rate at which bread goes stale depends on several factors:

  • Type of bread – Breads with higher fat and sugar content, like challah or brioche, tend to go stale faster than lean breads like baguette or ciabatta.
  • Preservatives – Most commercially made breads contain preservatives to extend shelf life. Bread without preservatives tends to go stale more quickly.
  • Storage method – Storing bread in the fridge slows down starch recrystallization, keeping it fresher longer. Bread left out on the counter stales much faster.
  • Packaging – Bread left in plastic packaging or twist ties dries out slower than unpackaged bread.

In general, most homemade breads can start to taste stale after just a day or two at room temperature. Commercially made bread stored in proper packaging may last 3-5 days past the printed expiration date before becoming stale.

Is it safe to eat stale bread?

Yes, eating stale bread is perfectly safe. As bread ages, there are no harmful toxins or bacteria that develop in the bread itself. The only danger is potential mold growth, which would be visible on the bread. As long as there is no visible mold, stale bread won’t make you sick.

The changes that happen as bread goes stale are purely physical and chemical. The starch changes form, water evaporates, and the texture becomes tougher. But there are no microbial or toxicological changes in the bread. So staleness does not equate to spoilage in terms of safety.

Does stale bread have less nutrients?

No, stale bread is not significantly less nutritious than fresh bread. During the staling process, there are minimal changes to the carbohydrate, protein, and fat content of bread. There are small reductions in certain B vitamins like thiamine, pyridoxine, and riboflavin, but the nutrient loss is less than 10% in most cases.

The table below shows the minimal nutrient changes that occur in bread as it stales:

Nutrient Fresh Bread Stale Bread
Calories 275 cal 270 cal
Carbs 44g 43g
Protein 10g 9g
Fat 3g 3g
Fiber 3g 3g
Thiamine 0.4mg 0.3mg
Riboflavin 0.3mg 0.2mg

As you can see, the differences are very small. So stale bread can generally be enjoyed guilt-free in terms of nutritional value.

How long after the expiration date can you eat bread?

The expiration or “best by” date on a bread package is simply an estimate for when the bread will start to become stale. It is not an indicator of when the bread will spoil or become unsafe to eat. Under proper storage conditions, packaged bread is generally fine to eat up to:

  • 1 week past the printed date for white bread
  • 2 weeks past the printed date for whole wheat bread
  • 1-2 months past the printed date if bread is frozen

If there is any mold growth on the bread, it should be discarded. But as long as there are no signs of spoilage, packaged bread can still be enjoyed for a period after the printed expiration date.

How can you restore stale bread?

If bread has become dry and hard, there are a few tricks to restore some softness and moisture:

  • Microwave with a damp paper towel – Wrap the bread in a damp paper towel and microwave for 10-15 seconds. The moisture steams the bread and makes it softer.
  • Bake in the oven – Wrap in foil and bake at 300°F for 5 minutes to steam the bread interior.
  • Dip in water – Quickly dipping stale bread or buns in water can rehydrate the crust.
  • Use leftover bread in casseroles or stuffing – Moist dishes like casseroles can mask the texture of stale bread.

While these tricks can temporarily improve stale bread’s texture, they do not reverse the chemical staling process. The bread will go back to being stale quickly, so these restoration methods should be done right before eating.

What are some ways to use stale bread?

Although the texture changes, stale bread’s flavor remains basically the same. This makes it ideal for using in a variety of dishes where a crispy texture is desirable. Here are some great ways to use up stale bread around the kitchen:

  • Bread crumbs – Allow bread to dry out completely then process into fine crumbs for coating foods or topping casseroles.
  • Croutons – Cut bread into cubes, toss with oil and seasonings, and bake at 400°F until crisp.
  • Bread pudding – Soak torn bread in an egg-based custard mixture, then bake into a sweet pudding.
  • Stuffing – Combine dried-out bread pieces with herbs, broth, vegetables, and other ingredients for a delicious side dish.
  • Bruschetta – Grill or toast stale bread and top with savory ingredients like tomato, basil, and olive oil.
  • French toast – Dip stale bread in an egg and milk mixture, then fry in butter or oil until browned.

Stale bread can also be used in panzanella salad, gazpacho soup, ribollita stew, and many other dishes. With a little creativity, stale bread can be transformed into something delicious.

What is the safety risk of moldy bread?

If bread develops visible mold, it is unsafe to eat regardless of how stale it is. Mold spores penetrate deep into the bread and the entire loaf should be discarded. Moldy bread can cause illness if consumed.

Mold produces mycotoxins that can cause adverse health effects ranging from allergic reactions to serious illnesses in people with compromised immune systems or preexisting conditions. Even small amounts of moldy bread should not be consumed.

Can stale bread be used for food prep?

Stale bread should not be used for food prep that requires fresh, soft bread. Applications like sandwiches, toast, bread bowls, and rolls are best made with fresh bread. If you need moist, malleable bread for prep, stale bread is not a good substitute.

However, for food prep where a dried-out texture works well, like bread crumbs, croutons, and stuffing, stale bread can be ideal to use up what you have on hand.

The table below summarizes whether stale bread can be used for different food prep applications:

Use Fresh bread Stale bread
Sandwiches Yes No
Garlic bread Yes No
Bruschetta Yes Yes
Bread crumbs No Yes
Croutons No Yes

Does stale bread affect dogs?

Stale bread generally does not pose any serious risks to dogs. However, there are a few factors to consider before feeding stale bread to your dog:

  • Small bits of hardened bread may be a choking hazard for some dogs. Soaking stale bread in broth or water can soften it.
  • Excessive amounts of bread may upset a dog’s digestive system and lead to diarrhea or vomiting.
  • Moldy bread could contain mycotoxins that are unsafe for dog consumption, so moldy bread should not be fed to dogs.
  • Bread dough before baking can be dangerous for dogs to eat as the yeast rises in their stomach and can cause bloating.

In moderation, plain stale bread is generally fine for dogs as an occasional treat. But it should not make up a large part of their regular diet. Check with your veterinarian if you have any concerns about feeding bread to your dog.


Stale bread is very safe for human consumption from a food safety standpoint. While not as enjoyable as fresh bread in terms of texture, stale bread has minimal changes to its nutritional value and can be used in a variety of dishes. Bread can still be enjoyed 1-2 weeks past the printed expiration date as long as there is no mold growth. Restoring techniques like microwaving with moisture can temporarily improve the texture of stale bread. Ultimately, stale bread is perfectly safe to eat as long as it is not growing any visible mold.

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