All who appreciate the value of pure food will welcome the announcement made by the President of the Local Governmetit Board a short time ago, that a Bill was in preparation designed to render illegal the bleaching of flour and the addition of phosphates as "flour improvers." It is not generally known that the bulk of flour used in this country is not the natural product of the wheat, but is flour which has been submitted to various forms of special treatment for the purpose of whitening it and otherwise increasing its commercial value, these processes being, there is good reason to believe, not without risk to the consumer. In view of a recent test case on "Bleached Flour" which has created widespread interest in the milling and baking trades, the present work is an opportune time for laying before the profession a short account of the process of bleaching.
The United States Government have previously taken up the subject of Bleached Flour. A public hearing on this subject was held by the Secretary of Agriculture and the Board of Food and Drug Inspection in 1908, and at this hearing those who favoured the bleaching process and those who were opposed to it were given equal opportunities to be heard. The conclusion was arrived at that flour bleached by nitrous oxide fumes was an adulterated product, and its sale in the United States is now illegal. In this country, the subject was first seriously taken up by Dr Wilson, Medical Officer of Health for Lanarkshire, and as a result of representations made to the Local Government Board in 1909, that body undertook an investigation into the subject, the results of this investigation being embodied in two reports, " On the Bleaching of Flour and the addition of so-called 'Improvers' to Flour," by Dr J. M. Hamill, and "On the Chemical Changes produced in Flour by Bleaching," by Dr E. W. Monier-Williams.
Dr Hamill's report, which was adverse to the process of bleaching, aroused widespread interest in the trade, meetings of millers and of bakers being held at which the bleaching of flour was specially discussed. At a meeting of the National Association of British and Irish Millers, held in April 1911, the following resolution was made and agreed to: "That in the opinion of the Association wheaten flour sold as such, without any qualifying designation, should be the unbleached and untreated product of properly cleaned and 'conditioned' wheat only." At a later date, the Council of the National Association of Master Bakers appointed a Committee to report on flour treatment, and this Committee arrived at the conclusion that the bleaching of flour was objectionable, and recommended that no bleached flour should be sold to the bakers without the fact that it is so bleached being disclosed.
The case which was recently concluded in the Sheriff-Court of Lanarkshire is of interest and importance to the public. This was a prosecution at the instance of the County Council of Lanarkshire against Uddingston Co-operative Society, charging the respondents with having sold for 1 lb. of flour a quantity of material which purported to be flour but which was not genuine flour, in respect that it had been bleached with peroxide of nitrogen, a poisonous noxious gas, and contained 3.43 parts or thereby of nitrites per million parts of floar, which was in excess of that found in genuine flour. The prosecution was the first of its kind in Scotland, and being a test case, it has aroused universal interest in the milling and baking trades. After a lengthy bearing, Sheriff Shennan found the charge not proven. His con-clusions that the prosecution was based on apprehended evils rather than proved deterioration, and that no proof had been tendered of deleterious results due to bleaching, will appeal to most medical men as sound. But it must be borne in mind that in the circumstances there can be no direct and conclusive proof as to the prejudicial effects of bleached flour as an article of diet. The indirect evidence, however, is conclusive that flour so treated is not so easily digested and is therefore less nutritive, and, in the interests of growing children more particularly, it should not be substituted for the genuine product of the wheat.
Rice flour boiled is sometimes added in breadmaking, causing the bread to become more adhesive and to hold more water. Hence bakers sometimes resort to this means to make their bread heavier when it is sold by weight.
Fresh-baked bread is less digestible than stale bread, the moist new bread forming a tenacious mass in the mouth which is not readily penetrated by the saliva and other digestive juices. Stale bread crumbles into small particles and is easily attacked. Similarly, the crust is more digestible than the interior part of the loaf.
Bread may be unfit for use from being made with adulterated of old flour, sour from bad flour, bitter from yeast, and may be sodden from insufficient fermentation; and it may grow mouldy from exposure to warm, damp air when it is moist.