The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

And you thought the bread baking business is tough today

dabrownman's picture

And you thought the bread baking business is tough today

gwschenk's picture

Much the same was the case here in the States. Bakers worked 16-18 hour days 6 days per week. Sunday was the easy day, maybe only a 10 hour day. Baker's asthma was a cause of early death, still is today for that matter. Most bakers lived at the place they worked. Taverns were the hiring halls and the preferred place of recreation. Conditions in the old cellar bakeries were horrid.

In the late 19th century German immigrant bakers started the Bakery and Confectionary Workers' Union. A big part of their public organizing campaigns dealt with sanitation in bakeries. They succeeded in getting better wages and conditions for bakers along with cleaner shops.

Bakers today still have a tough life. The days off are generally Monday night and Friday night.  Most work is done on swing and graveyard shifts. People want fresh bread as much as possible, so bakers work Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve, and any other holiday you can think of. As for a three day weekend, I had one in a 16 year career, a fluke in the schedule.

Bakers don't live long into retirement. Baker's asthma, or white lung disease, still plagues the industry. Commercial bakeries are very loud work places resulting in severe hearing loss for bakers. A lifetime of working at night is hard on the body.

Bakers tend to deal with these stresses in two ways: alcohol or religion.

Long hours were common at the bakery at which I worked. The last shift before the down day had to work until the orders were filled. being on that last shift I'd often work 14 to 16 hour shifts, starting in the evening and finishing up sometime the next morning. I once asked for relief after 19 hours. The supervisor called me lazy.

Most of my career was spent as a dough mixer. I went to work dressed to do battle. Over my whites I wore a rubber apron, rubber gloves, a dust mask, ear plugs and a bump cap. In the mid-90s potassium bromate was removed from the formula and replaced with another ingredient. Right away several of the dough mixers at the company started developing dermatitis. I had skin sores developing on the few spots of my skin that were exposed. It was scary. In another dough mixer, an old timer, who never wore any protective equipment, it became systemic and he had the sores all over his body. Probably from breathing flour and various another ingredients.

That ended my career as a professional baker.

BXMurphy's picture

My word! It kind of takes the romance out of bakeries...

Who knew bread baking could be so hazardous?

Isn't it funny how tree-huggers love the organic stuff and fresh this and that but still, danger abounds. I would think even gathering the ingredients to produce goods at home would have its own litany of horrors.


gwschenk's picture

I used to have dreams about sleeping at night! I called it the 16 year sleep deprivation experiment. I still have anxiety dreams about it. One that gets me is when I'm working at the bakery in San Pedro, CA then realize I have a shift starting at the bakery I worked at in Indiana in 15 minutes. What am I going to do??

But it was honest work and steady and it fed people. Bakers were able to buy modest homes and send their kids to school.

I don't mean to get political, but the stories you read about the Hostess bankruptcy were outlandishly wrong and the fact that the bakers got thrown under the bus still irks me.