Food Safety for Infants

Infants and young children are particularly vulnerable to foodborne illness because their immune systems are not developed enough to fight off infections. Here is information to help keep your little one safe from foodborne illness.

One key step to preventing foodborne illness in babies and children is to wash your hands (and theirs). Hands can pick up harmful bacteria from pets, raw foods, soil, and diapers.

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Breast Milk and Infant Formula

Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for infants. Nursing mothers should ask their physician for a referral to a lactation consultant or other professional who can help ensure that breast-feeding is a positive experience for both mother and baby. By following safe preparation and storage techniques, nursing mothers and caretakers of breast-fed infants and toddlers can maintain the high quality of expressed breast milk and the health of the baby. If, after consultation with a healthcare provider, you decide to feed a baby with human milk from a source other than the baby’s mother, you should use only milk from a source that has screened its milk donors and taken other precautions to ensure the safety of its milk. Do not use donor breast milk from individual donors or from the Internet.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following procedures to safely prepare and store breast milk:
• Be sure to wash your hands before expressing or handling breast milk.
• When collecting milk, be sure to store it in clean containers, such as screw-cap bottles, hard plastic cups with tight caps, or heavy-duty bags that fit directly into nursery bottles. Avoid using ordinary plastic storage bags or formula bottle bags, as these could easily leak or spill.
• If delivering breast milk to a child care provider, clearly label the container with the child’s name and date.
• Clearly label the milk with the date it was expressed in order to facilitate using the oldest milk first.
• Do not add fresh milk to already-frozen milk within a storage container. It is best not to mix the two.
• Do not save milk from a used bottle for use at another feeding.

Safely Thawing Breast Milk

• As time permits, thaw frozen breast milk by transferring it to the refrigerator for thawing or by swirling it in a bowl of warm water.
• Avoid using a microwave oven to thaw or heat bottles of breast milk. Microwave ovens do not heat liquids evenly. Uneven heating could easily scald a baby or damage the milk.
• Remember that any excess heat can destroy the nutrient quality of the expressed milk.
• Do not re-freeze breast milk once it has been thawed.

While breast milk is the best source of nutrition for infants, you may also choose commercially prepared infant formula. You shouldn’t give your baby cow’s milk in the first year, because it does not have the correct balance of nutrients for infants to grow and develop normally, and it can cause anemia or kidney problems. Raw milk is never appropriate for infants or children at any time for any purpose. Most formula is made from pasteurized cow’s milk, but it has been modified and supplemented with additional nutrients. As a result, the formula is more nutritious and easier for babies to digest than ordinary cow’s milk. Other formula options include soy-based formulas and hypoallergenic (or protein hydrolysate and amino acid-based) formulas. Special formulas are available for babies who are premature or have other health problems.

• To prepare safe water for mixing powder formula, bring tap water to a rolling boil and boil it for one minute. If you use bottled water, follow this same process unless the label indicates that it is sterile. Then let the water cool to body temperature (test for a comfortable temperature on your inner wrist) before mixing the formula.
• Never heat a bottle of baby formula in the microwave, since the bottle can remain cool while hot spots can develop in the formula.
• Use clean bottles and nipples. You may want to sterilize bottles and nipples before their first use. After that, it’s safe to wash them by hand or in a dishwasher.
• Don’t make more formula than you will need. Formula can become contaminated during preparation, and bacteria can multiply quickly if formula is improperly stored. Prepare formula in smaller quantities on an as-needed basis to greatly reduce the possibility of contamination. And always follow the label instructions for mixing formula.
• Always follow the “use by” date of infant formula; it is the only expiration date required by federal law.

Baby Food

Check the packaging of commercial baby food before serving. For jars: make sure that the safety button on the lid is down. Discard any jars that don’t “pop” when opened or that have chipped glass or rusty lids. For plastic pouches: discard any packages that are swelling or leaking. More advice:

• Don’t “double dip” with baby food by feeding a baby directly from a jar of baby food. Put a small serving of food in a small, clean bowl and refrigerate the remaining food in the jar. If the baby needs more food, use a clean spoon to serve another portion. Never put baby food in a dish in the refrigerator if the baby doesn’t finish it; throw away any food in the dish that’s not eaten. If you do feed a baby from a jar, discard any remaining food. Never leave any open containers of liquid or pureed baby food out at room temperature for more than two hours.
• Don’t share spoons: Don’t put the baby’s spoon in your mouth or anyone else’s mouth—or vice versa. If you want to demonstrate eating for your baby, get a separate serving dish and spoon for yourself.
• Don’t feed honey to a baby under one year of age, because honey can be tainted with Clostridium botulinum, which causes botulism.
• Don’t store opened baby food in the refrigerator for more than three days, so that bacteria don’t have time to grow to dangerous levels. If you’re not sure when you opened a jar, throw it out.

Other relevant links:

• Wash your hands to prevent illness. See: Washing 101

• Follow these tips to keep your young children healthy. See: Food Safety Tips for Young Children

• Here are some important tips regarding food safety during pregnancy. See: Food Safety during Pregnancy

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