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Safe Food for Babies: Handling Breast Milk, Formula and Baby Food (FN656 (Revised))

Infants and young children are most at risk for foodborne illness because their immune systems are not fully developed. Follow the tips in this publication to keep breast milk, formula and baby food safe for babies.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D. Tami Totland, R.D., L.R.D.

Tami Totland,R.D., L.R.D.Food and Nutrition Specialist Program Assistant (former)


About one in six Americans (48 million people) gets sick from contaminated food or beverages each year. Infants and young children are at risk for foodborne illness because their immune systems are not fully developed. Also, the stomachs of infants and young children produce less acid, making it easier for harmful microorganisms to invade their bodies. Follow these tips to keep breast milk, formula and baby food safe for babies.

Keep it Clean!

  • Wash your hands! To prevent the spread of harmful bacteria from your hands to the baby’s mouth, wash your hands in warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Clean bottles and nipples after every use. Use dish soap and hot water to wash and rinse all utensils used to prepare and serve food (including the can opener).
  • To sterilize bottles and accessories, place in boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove with tongs and allow to air dry completely for one hour before using. Many bottles are dishwasher-safe and will be sterilized after being washed by this method.
  • Wash eating areas with hot, soapy water.

Handle it Safely!

Breast Milk

  • Collect expressed breast milk in sterilized 4-ounce plastic bottles and plastic bottle liners and immediately store in the refrigerator.
  • Milk that won’t be used within 24 to 48 hours should be frozen immediately in sterilized, 4-ounce plastic or glass bottles or sealable plastic bags. Label with the date and use older milk first. Frozen breast milk can be stored for three to six months.
  • Thaw breast milk in warm water only. To distribute the fat, shake the container of milk before serving.
  • Do not refreeze breast milk.
  • Unused portions of breast milk left in the bottle after feeding should be discarded.
  • Avoid leaving a bottle with a baby during naptime as the milk may become unsafe to drink over time and can lead to future tooth decay.

Handle it Safely!

Formula

  • Fill sterilized bottles with just enough formula for one feeding. Bottles can be sterilized in boiling water for five minutes or in the dishwasher. Throw away leftovers. Harmful bacteria from the baby’s mouth may have entered the bottle during feeding and could grow to unsafe levels.
  • Tightly cover and place cans of liquid formula directly in the refrigerator after filling the bottle. Open cans of liquid ready-to-use formula will remain safe for up to 48 hours. Prepared infant formula should be used within 24 hours.
  • Follow the manufacturers recommendations for preparing bottles before filling with any kind of formula, powder or liquid. Observe the “use by” and “expiration” dates on formula cans. Vitamin levels and food quality deteriorate after the expiration date.
  • Avoid leaving a bottle with a baby during naptime as the milk may become unsafe to drink over time and can lead to future tooth decay.
  • Handle it Safely!

Baby Food

  • Check the “circle of safety” button in the center of baby food jars at the store. A “down” button means the jar is sealed and safe to use.
    Avoid buying damaged jars with chipped glass, rusty lids or dirty labels.
  • Spoon out the desired amount of baby food from the jar into a separate feeding dish and immediately place the remainder in the refrigerator. Do not feed an infant directly from the jar because saliva on the spoon may contaminate the remaining food.
  • If making homemade baby food, use a brush to thoroughly clean areas around blender blades or food processor parts. Harmful bacteria may lurk in these areas. “Home Canning of Fruit and Fruit Products” (HE-174), an NDSU Extension Service publication, has more information on home canning baby food. It’s available at www.ag.ndsu.nodak.edu/food.htm
  • Do not feed honey to a child 1 year old or younger. Honey can contain “spores” (seedlike forms of bacteria) that could cause botulism in young children. Botulism can cause serious illness or death.
  • Freeze homemade baby food by putting the mixture in an ice cube tray and covering with plastic wrap until frozen. Transfer food cubes into a freezer bag or airtight container and label with contents and date.
Safe food storage

North Dakota Resources

North Dakota Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity 

North Dakota WIC Program

NDSU Extension Service Healthy Pregnancy

NDSU Extension Service Kids & Nutrition

National Resources

FDA Once Baby Arrives

Breastfeeding Information

LaLeche League International

American Academy of Pediatrics

National Women’s Health Information Center

Exercise and Pregnancy

American Academy of Family Physicians

March of Dimes


Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Folic Acid and Birth Defects

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

North Dakota Wheat Commission

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Food Safety

Food and Drug Administration

Nutrition

WomensHealth.gov

USDA Food and Nutrition Information Center

Prematurity

March of Dimes

Smoking Cessation

WomensHealth.gov

National Partnership to Help Pregnant Smokers Quit

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

This material is based upon work supported by the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service,
U.S. Department of Agriculture, under Agreement No. 2002-51110-01512.

January 2014

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