On Tuesday, The DA Eats team reviewed several of Panera Bread’s preservative-free menu items, including the Kitchen Sink cookie and the Chipotle Chicken Avocado Melt.
We had an overall positive experience, and there were several foods we tried that we agreed would now be our go-to meals at Panera. However, we wanted to know more about Panera Bread’s mission to provide “clean” food for each of its customers.
“Towards the wintertime (of 2016), they started changing the soups to preservative-free and we were actually getting a lot of complaints,” Courtney Ickes, assistant manager at the Willey St. Panera Bread said. “They (the customers) weren’t used to not having preservatives in their food, but after they got used to it, they started loving it.”
When asked whether going preservative-free made any impact on the location’s amount of wasted food, she said, “I don’t really notice much more waste. We’re not making as much, we’re not prepping as much so that we’re not just throwing things away.
“You want to know that what you’re eating is fresh, and it means a lot to see us actually peel the avocado out of its skin for your sandwich… That’s one of the main reasons why I started working here, because of how they were so big on making sure everything was fresh and that everything was exactly the way you wanted it.”
The FDA states preservatives and additives maintain food freshness, maintain its nutritional value, and improve its taste, texture, and appearance. However, the push for organic, additive-free foods has been steadily on the rise.
Some preservatives, such as ascorbic acid and nisin, have been proven safe to eat over the years, but there are some questionable food preservatives out there that may not be as harmless as they appear.
For example, sulfites, used to stop fruits and vegetables from browning, have been linked to asthma-related sensitivity. Others, like nitrite (which gives hotdogs their red color), have been linked to cancer.
Though opting for preservative-free foods means a higher cost, it may affect your health positively to go natural and clean up your diet.
Ickes also wanted people to know about Panera Bread’s effort to donate food to local organizations.
“We donate every night, all breads and all pastries… Different churches pick them up, there are homeless shelters that do it, and every specific Panera in the country has its own list of organizations that will come pick up the leftover breads and pastries… It just proves that not only are you getting fresh food, but we’re not wasting, either.”
Manager Ashleigh Carter brought us into the kitchen and showed us exactly what was in the Chipotle Chicken Avocado Melt we had just eaten.
“What you see on TV is what you get at this restaurant,” Ickes said.
All photos by Abby Humphreys