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Keeping Britain Fed: Sara Cox explains reason behind flour shortage during coronavirus stockpiling

Sara Cox investigated the flour shortage on Keeping Britain Fed (Picture: BBC)

Keeping Britain Fed tonight explained the reason for the flour shortage during coronavirus stockpiling at the beginning of lockdown.

Like toilet roll, the item proved to be hard to come by as many of us turned to baking as a way to pass the time at home.

But a lack of wheat wasn’t the reason flour turned to gold dust.

Going into detail on why the ingredient became a rarety, Sara Cox revealed that normally 1.5k bags of flour accounts for less than 5% of the flour produced by mills in the country.

While there is certainly enough flour to go around, it’s the size in which the bags are sold which contributed to the problem – with the amount of bags being produced still not enough to meet demand despite manufacturers increasing bag sizes and working hours.

Visit our live blog for the latest updates: Coronavirus news live

‘Most of it [flour] usually goes into tankers at bread factories or large sacks for..

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Sara Cox on Keeping Britain Fed Sara Cox investigated the flour shortage on Keeping Britain Fed (Picture: BBC)

Keeping Britain Fed tonight explained the reason for the flour shortage during coronavirus stockpiling at the beginning of lockdown.

Like toilet roll, the item proved to be hard to come by as many of us turned to baking as a way to pass the time at home.

But a lack of wheat wasn’t the reason flour turned to gold dust.


Going into detail on why the ingredient became a rarety, Sara Cox revealed that normally 1.5k bags of flour accounts for less than 5% of the flour produced by mills in the country.

While there is certainly enough flour to go around, it’s the size in which the bags are sold which contributed to the problem – with the amount of bags being produced still not enough to meet demand despite manufacturers increasing bag sizes and working hours.

Visit our live blog for the latest updates: Coronavirus news live

‘Most of it [flour] usually goes into tankers at bread factories or large sacks for commercial use,’ she said.

‘But as homebaking is taking off during lockdown, demand for small supermarket sized bags (1.5kg) has doubled from two million to four million a week.

Freshly milled flour is seen inside the family run Shipton Mill, as a rare boon from the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak sees soaring demand for their organic flour from a new generation of locked-down home bakers, in Tetbury, Britain May 5, 2020. Picture taken May 5, 2020. REUTERS/Dylan MartinezFlour has the potential to explode during production and special equipment to prevent this happening is expensive (Picture: Reuters)

‘Scaling up-flow production is hard because of the process. Producing flours has a hidden risk meaning that it has to be carefully controlled.’

Flour, like all fine powders, has the potential to explode, and so producers of flour use specialist packing machines to stop that from happening.

‘When flour is suspended in the air as dust which can happen during milling, there’s a risk of combustion because each grain is surrounded by enough oxygen it could ignite with the smallest spark,’ Sara explained.

She added that the complexities of the special packing machines make them expensive so getting another one for small bags isn’t attractive for mill owners.

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Elsewhere on the programme, it was revealed that sales of toilet tissues rose by 60% year-on-year for the week ending 8 March 2020, while dry pasta sales were up 55% and baked beans by 48%.

According to Kantar data, canned tomato sales rose 61.8% in March and overall sales of canned food shot up by 72.6%.

Keeping Britain Fed is available to stream on BBC iPlayer.

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