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French Version

Bakeries drop threats after promise to maintain subsidies

Government keeps measure in place until end-january

The Union of Bakery owners said Friday it will not resort to any escalatory moves in light of a Cabinet decision to keep subsidizing flour.

"As long as the Cabinet has taken such a cooperative measure we will not resort to any escalations," union chief Ibrahim Kazem told The Daily Star.

The Cabinet said Thursday it would subsidize flour "so as to maintain the price of bread."

There is a ceiling on the price of bread. The price of a standard packet of white bread is fixed at LL1,500.

The surge in international oil prices over the past few months had drastic impacts on bakery owners and forced them to decrease the amount of bread in every pack.

A statement issued by the Economy and Trade Ministry on Thursday said that the government would subsidize flour until the end of January.

"Bakeries are also complaining about the continuous increase in the prices of fuel, plastic [for bags] and sugar, which lead to an increase in production costs, making it difficult for bakery owners to maintain current prices," according to Ibrahim.

He added that in the event the government ceases to support the bread industry "we will be forced to "either reduce the quantity of bread in a pack or increase prices."

"A pack of bread used to last us for two days, sometimes three ... Now I have to buy a pack on a daily basis," Alice Salloum, a housewife, told The Daily Star.

The owner of the Golden Dough Bakery in the Burj Abu Haidar district of Beirut guided The Daily Star through the whole bread-making process.

"We usually start our shifts at 8:30 in the evening and have bread ready at around 11 p.m.," Mustaf Assaf said.

He explained that pre-measured amounts of the bread's basic ingredients are blended in commercial mixers.

The dough is later scooped out of the mixing bowl and fed into an extruder that forms the dough into tennis-ball sized portions. Each ball of dough is then dropped into cups moving on a conveyor belt. The dough balls are allowed to rest and rise in the cups for approximately 15 minutes.

"This process is called proofing," the bread-maker added.

The balls are turned out onto a sheeter that travels on a conveyer belt. The sheeter passes under a series of rollers that press the dough into the desired-sized circles.

The flattened dough is then passed under die-cuts that create circular pieces. The circular loaves are conveyed into the furnace usually kept at a very high temperature.

The pita loaves move quickly through the ovens, where they are exposed to high heat for about one minute. The combination of the high heat and flash-baking causes the water in the dough to turn to steam, thus forming the pita pocket by separating the upper and lower crusts. The baked pita loaves move out of the oven and back and forth on a system of conveyer belts for about 20 minutes until they are cooled. Plant workers then manually flatten the puffed-up loaves

As a final step, the pita is conveyed to the packaging area where they are stacked in a pre-determined amount and inserted into pre-printed plastic bags. Workers may close the bags manually with twist ties.

Beirut 06-01-2008
The Daily Star

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