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No-Fuss Baby Food Safety Guide

By Cynthia Stevens Graubart and Catherine Fliegel, R.N.

 

Breast Milk

How long you can keep it: At room temperature (66-72°F) The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the La Leche League say six to eight hours is fine if you don’t have a fridge handy.

In a refrigerator The AAP recommends two to three days; the La Leche League agrees that’s best, but says up to eight days is acceptable.

In the freezer The AAP recommends one month, especially if the freezer is opened frequently. The La Leche League says six months is safe. If you have a separate freezer that’s rarely opened, both agree that at least six months is safe, but don’t keep milk longer than a year.

Breast milk safety secrets

If your baby is a preemie or has health concerns, err on the side of caution, and keep milk refrigerated as much as possible.

Label each container of milk with the date it was stored.

Store the milk in the back of the fridge or freezer to minimize its exposure to warm air when you open the door.

Freeze about two to four ounces per container. Leave a little room at the top of the container to allow for expansion.

Thaw frozen milk slowly in the fridge for no more than 24 hours or in a bowl of warm water.

Never refreeze thawed milk.

Save milk left over from a feeding only if it’s a small amount and you plan to feed it to your baby within an hour or so.

Formula

How long you can keep it:

Unopened cans of powdered, ready-to-feed, and concentrated liquid formula Keep up to the "sell by" or "use by" date printed on the container. Store at room temperature, out of direct sunlight.

 

Opened cans of powdered formula You can store for up to one month (or according to the manufacturer's guidelines) in the refrigerator, says the AAP.

Opened cans of ready-to-feed and concentrated liquid formula Keep for up to 48 hours. Store in the refrigerator, tightly covered.

Prepared bottles of powdered formula Keep for up to 24 hours. Store in the refrigerator.

Formula safety secrets:

Is it safe? Don't buy any can of formula that has dents or bulges.

Give the top of the formula can a quick wipe before you open it to get rid of any dust or dirt. Clean the can opener before you use it, too, to avoid contamination.

Read the manufacturer's mixing instructions on the label, and follow the exact water-to-formula ratio.

You can prepare enough bottles for a whole day and take them out of the fridge as needed. Toss any leftovers.

Store the formula in the back of the fridge to minimize its exposure to warm air when you open the door.

Never freeze formula.

If you need to take prepared formula on an outing or trip, keep it in an insulated bag with a cold pack unless you know you'll definitely be using it within two hours of taking it out of the refrigerator.

Don't save formula in a bottle left over from a feeding to use another time; germs from your baby's mouth can contaminate the liquid and cause bacterial growth.

Don't rely on the sniff test to let you know if formula is still safe to drink; it may be odorless even if bad.

Warm it up Bottles of formula are best heated up in a bowl of warm water or in a bottle warmer. Though it's dangerous to microwave bottles (it can create hot spots in the liquid that may scald your baby's mouth), let's be honest: Many moms still do it. If you do resort to zapping, make sure the bottle is microwave-safe, and remove the nipple or cap before heating for no more than three to five seconds per ounce. Shake the bottle and put some formula on your wrist to test the temp. Avoid nuking breast milk; it can damage its immune properties.

To sterilize or not to sterilize Gear: Most experts will tell you to sterilize all your bottles, storage containers, nipples, rings, caps, and measuring cups at least before the first use by heating them in boiling water for five minutes. But many veteran moms (including a few Babytalk editors) skip this step and just run them through the dishwasher. Another good option: Medela sells Quick Clean Micro-Steam Bags that allow you to sterilize your stuff in the microwave in just three minutes. If there are concerns about your local water supply, though, your doctor may recommend sterilizing the gear after each use.

Water: Your pediatrician may suggest that you boil the water you use to mix formula for the first few months to be safe, but others say not to worry about it unless you have well water or concerns about your local water supply. (Since your pediatrician will know about the quality of the water in your area, follow her recommendation.) To sterilize tap water, bring it to a boil for just one minute and let it cool down before mixing it with formula. You can buy sterilized bottled water, but bottled water is not sterile in general, so it's no better than tap in most cases.

 

Solid Food

How long you can keep it:

Some new types of organic and/or flash-frozen baby foods are sold in stores' freezer or refrigerator sections and must be kept cold, open or not. But most unopened jarred solids can be kept at room temperature. Once opened, here's how long you can store them:

 

Strained fruits and vegetables Keep in the refrigerator for up to two to three days or in a freezer compartment with a separate door for as long as six to eight months.

Strained meats Keep in the fridge for one day or in a freezer compartment with a separate door for up to one to two months.

Meat/veggie combos Keep in the fridge for one to two days or in a freezer compartment with a separate door for one to two months.

Solid food safety secrets

Don't purchase sticky, cracked, or rusty jars, and make sure the safety button on the lid is down.

Give the top of the jar a quick wipe before you open it to get rid of any dirt.

Inspect the inside rim of the jar after opening for cracks or chips, and throw it away if you spot any; tiny shards of glass could be in the food.

Never nuke baby-food jars. If you need to heat the food, spoon it into a microwave-safe container first. After heating, stir well, then put a drop on your wrist or taste it yourself with a clean spoon (use a different spoon to feed your baby) to test the temp.

Don't serve food straight from the jar if you plan on saving part of it for later. Your baby's saliva can contaminate it. Spoon the amount you plan on feeding your baby into a separate bowl, and save the rest.

Store food in the back of the fridge/freezer to reduce its exposure to warm air when you open the door.

Freeze homemade baby food in an ice-cube tray, then store the frozen cubes in plastic freezer bags.

 

Cynthia Stevens Graubart and Catherine Fliegel, R.N. are freelance writers.

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