Crumb of comfort for bakers in new bread guide

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When is fresh bread really fresh? When it hasn't been frozen, according to trading standards officers.

They look set to offer crumbs of satisfaction to small bakers as they announced yesterday they are to issue new guidelines next month on the way supermarkets must describe their bread baked in-store.

The Local Authority Co-ordinating Body on Trading Standards [Lacots] has been looking into the way that supermarkets advertise their in-store bakery loaves. Common descriptions include "fresh-baked", "oven-fresh" and "freshly baked here today". But trading standards are worried that consumers could be misled into thinking that all such loaves are prepared from beginning to end on the premises.

At present, there are few restrictions on the way supermarkets can describe the bread they sell, as long as part of the cooking process has taken place in-store.

Les Bailey, Lacots' senior executive officer, said that trading standards had been in discussions with the supermarket chains as well as the British Retail Consortium and the National Association of Master Bakers.

He said some claims made for bread at the moment were "tending towards the misleading" and they had been asked to produce some advice which was due to be sent out to local authorities next month. "We could be looking at extreme situations where perhaps has been part-baked and is finished off or browned in-store," said Mr Bailey.

"And yet there are all these descriptions such as freshly baked or fresh from the oven. In this case the description needs to be looked at quite carefully.

"Originally in-store bakeries carried out the full process and the consumer might not be aware that it has been scaled back to a certain extent. And so what we are trying to do is find appropriate descriptions."

David Smith, chief executive for the National Association of Master Bakers said that they considered the Lacots move a victory: "We have been working away behind the scenes for a long time.

"We perceive that a definition which will allow consumers to know that bread has not been cooked in its entirety within the store would be useful.

"At the moment, some bread is being sold as fresh when it has been partly made for a very long time and then finished off on the premises."

The action is the latest in the running dispute between supermarket chains and the National Association of Master Bakers , which represents 2,000 independent breadmakers.

Earlier this year, the association complained that the livelihood of its members was endangered because they were caught in the crossfire of a bread-price war between rival supermarkets.