Send out those baby announcements - your bundle of joy has finally arrived! You've completed your first nine months of the journey. Now, here's how you, grandparents, and caregivers can help keep baby's food safe from here on...
Foodborne illness is a serious health issue, especially for your new baby and any other children in your home. Each year in the U.S., 800,000 illnesses affect children under the age of 10. Infants and young children are particularly vulnerable to foodborne illness because their immune systems are not developed enough to fight off foodborne bacterial infections. That's why extra care should be taken when handling and preparing their food.
Infants and young children are particularly vulnerable to foodborne illness because their immune systems are not developed enough to fight off foodborne bacterial infections. In fact, 800,000 illnesses affect children under the age of 10 in the U.S. each year.
Your First Step in Keeping Your Children Safe
Your hands can pick up bacteria and spread bacteria to your baby - for example, from:
- Diapers containing feces and urine
- Raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs
- Pets, such as dogs, cats, turtles, snakes, birds, and lizards.
Washing your hands can remove harmful bacteria, so wash your hands often to help prevent foodborne illness. Also, teach your children how and when to wash their hands.
3 Critical Handwashing Steps
- Wet your hands thoroughly with warm water and add soap.
- Thoroughly scrub your hands, wrists, fingernails, and in between fingers - for at least 20 seconds.
- Rinse, then dry hands with a clean cloth towel or use a paper towel so the germs are thrown away.
"Washing hands is one of the most important actions parents can take to prevent foodborne illness in their children." (FDA)
When to Wash
- Before and after handling food.
- After using the bathroom, changing diapers, or handling pets.
Who's Not Washing?
According to a Penn State University study on mothers with infants less than four months old:
41% didn't wash their hands after petting animals;
32% didn't wash their hands after changing the baby's diaper;
15% didn't wash their hands after using the bathroom;
10% didn't wash their hands after handling raw meat;
5% didn't wash their hands after gardening or working with soil.
Foodborne Illness: When to Call the Doctor
Prevention is key to keeping your baby safe from infections. However, food-handling mistakes can happen. If your baby experiences any of the following symptoms, he or she may have foodborne illness and may need to see a doctor:
- Blood in diarrhea
- Prolonged, high fever
- Not taking fluids
- Not able to keep anything down due to vomiting
In these cases, take your baby to a doctor or healthcare provider immediately. He or she can properly diagnose foodborne illness, have the specific bacteria identified if necessary, and prescribe the best treatment.
Handling Baby's Food Safely...
Protect your baby and young children by following these DOs and DON'Ts for preparing and handling their food safely.
- Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for preparing bottles before filling them with formula or milk. Observe "use-by" dates on formula cans.
- Check to see that the safety button on the lid of commercial baby-food jars is down. If the jar lid doesn't "pop" when opened, don't use the product. Discard any jars with chipped glass or rusty lids.
- Use detergent and hot water to wash all blenders, food processors, and utensils (including the can opener) that come in contact with a baby's foods. Rinse well with hot water after washing.
- Transport bottles and food in an insulated cooler when traveling with the baby. Perishable items (milk, formula, or food) left out of the refrigerator or without a cold source for more than two hours should not be used. Cold temperatures keep most harmful bacteria from multiplying.
- Freeze homemade baby food by putting the mixture into an ice cube tray. Note: One cube equals one serving. Cover with heavy-duty plastic wrap and place the tray in the freezer. Once the food cubes are frozen, pop them into a freezer bag or airtight container and date it. Store for up to three months (discard unused food after three months). As an option, small jars can also be used for freezing. Leave about 1/2 inch of space at the top because food expands when frozen.
- Don't make more formula than you will need. Formula can become contaminated during preparation. If a large quantity of formula is prepared and not properly refrigerated, bacteria can multiply to very large numbers. The more bacteria there are, the greater the chances for foodborne illness. Preparing formula in smaller quantities on an as-needed basis greatly reduces the possibility of contamination. If using powder, reconstitute immediately before feeding. If using liquid concentrates or ready-to-feed products, follow label instructions provided by the manufacturer.
- Don't put a bottle back in the refrigerator if the baby doesn't finish it. Harmful bacteria from a baby's mouth can be introduced into the bottle during feeding; they can grow and multiply even after refrigeration (some bacteria can grow at refrigerator temperatures) and reheating. The temperature that's needed to kill harmful bacteria is extremely high for consumption by a baby. Also, it's not a good idea to repeatedly reheat formula because lots of nutrients can be lost.
- Don't feed a baby from a jar of baby food and then put it in the refrigerator. Saliva on the spoon may contaminate the remaining food. Instead, put a serving size on a dish. Refrigerate the food remaining in the jar. Throw away the food in the serving dish that's not eaten.
- Don't use honey as a sweetener to entice babies to drink water from a bottle. Honey isn't safe for children less than a year old. It can contain the Clostridium botulinum organism that could cause serious illness or death.
- Don't give raw or unpasteurized milk or unpasteurized fruit or vegetable juice to infants or young children. Unpasteurized milk or juice may contain harmful bacteria. Unpasteurized juices are normally found in the refrigerated sections of grocery stores, health-food stores, cider mills, or farm markets. Such juices must have this warning on the label: WARNING: This product has not been pasteurized and therefore may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, older adults, and persons with weakened immune systems.
NOTE: Juices that are fresh-squeezed and sold by the glass, such as at farmer's markets, at roadside stands, or in some juice bars, may not be pasteurized, or otherwise treated to ensure their safety. Warning labels are not required on these products. Young children should avoid these juices. If you can't tell if a juice has been processed to destroy harmful bacteria, either don't use the product or boil it to kill any harmful bacteria.
- Don't leave formula out at room temperature for more than 2 hours. Harmful bacteria can grow rapidly in food at room temperature. Discard formula that's been left out for more than two hours.
- Don't place dirty diapers in the same bag with bottles or food. Harmful bacteria from a dirty diaper can spread to baby's food.
- Don't give infants "teas" brewed from star anise. Brewed "teas" containing star anise have been associated with illnesses affecting infants. The illnesses ranged from serious neurological effects, such as seizures, to vomiting, jitteriness, and rapid eye movement.
Two Ways to Heat Breast Milk or Formula
(for bottles with disposable inserts or hard plastic and glass bottles)
- In Hot Tap Water
Place bottle under hot, running tap water until the desired temperature is reached. This should take one-to-two minutes.
- On the Stove
Heat water in a pan. Remove the pan from the heat and set the bottle in it until it's warm.
When heating baby's milk, always shake the liquid to even out the temperature and test on top of your hand - not the wrist (this is one of the areas least sensitive to heat) - before feeding. Milk that's "baby-ready" should feel lukewarm.
Heating breast milk or infant formula in the microwave is not recommended. Studies have shown that microwaves heat baby's milk and food unevenly. This results in "hot spots" that can scald a baby's mouth and throat.
Safe Microwaving of Solid Foods
Studies show that the when baby food is microwaved in a jar, it's often heated unevenly. The hottest places are in the center of the foods. The coolest places are next to the glass sides, which could lead you to believe that the food is not too hot. Follow these precautions when microwaving baby's food.
- Don't microwave baby foods in the jar. Instead, transfer the food to a dish before microwaving it. This way the food can be stirred and taste-tested for temperature.
- Microwave 4 ounces of solid food in a dish for about 15 seconds on high power. Always stir, let stand 30 seconds, and taste-test before feeding.
- Don't heat baby-food meats, meat sticks or eggs in the microwave. Use the stovetop instead. These foods have a high fat content, and since microwaves heat fats faster than other substances, these foods can cause splattering and overheating.
Special Note: When heating baby's food, always stir, let stand 30 seconds, and taste-test before feeding. Food that's "baby-ready" should taste or feel lukewarm.
How to Store Mother's Milk
Careful home handling and storage of breast milk is essential in preserving its special qualities. Here's how to properly store breast milk:
- Refrigerate breast milk if it will be used within 24 hours. If the milk will not be used in that time, it should be frozen - but only for a maximum of 3-6 months. Date it when you freeze it.
- Store breast milk in the back of the freezer, not in the freezer door. The door is the warmest spot in the freezer. This avoids the possibility of unintentionally defrosting the milk, which can happen with frequent openings and closings of the door.
Safe Storage of Baby Food
Expressed breast milk
3 to 6 months
Formula (stored in individual baby bottles)
Reconstituted evaporated milk
3 to 5 days
SOLIDS - opened or freshly made
Strained fruits and vegetables
2 to 3 days
6 to 8 months
Strained meats and eggs
1 to 2 months
1 to 2 days
1 to 2 months
Homemade baby foods
1 to 2 days
3 to 4 months
Important Tips to Remember for Baby...
- Don't leave baby food solids or liquids out at room temperature for more than two hours.
- Don't put a bottle or baby-food back in the refrigerator if the baby doesn't finish it.
- To reduce the risks of choking, be watchful of babies and young children while they are eating, and teach children to chew their food well.
(In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children younger than 4 years old not be fed any round, firm food unless it is cut into small pieces no larger than one-half inch.)
For more on choking, see MedlinePlus: Choking
For more information about infant formula and how to report problems, see Infant Formula.