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5 Baby Food Safety Tips to Protect Your Little One

Nancy J Price
March 11, 2015

When stored or served incorrectly, baby food can be a breeding ground for bacteria. Are you taking the right precautions to keep your baby healthy? Check out these tips to be sure.

Just how safe is it to give your baby those leftover pureed peas? Like adults, your baby runs the risk of food poisoning when she's served food that hasn't been stored or heated correctly, whether it's homemade or store-bought. Do you know the basics of baby food safety? Here are some tips to make mealtime safer.

  1. Keep Things Clean
    Cleanliness is your first line of defense against food poisoning caused by bacterial or viral infections. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says this is especially important for babies because their immune systems are not fully developed. Cheryl Tallman, a co-founder of Fresh Baby, a company that makes homemade baby food kits, says to always wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water before making food or feeding your child. If you're using commercially prepared food, wash the jar and lid before opening it to reduce the risk of transferring outside germs into your baby's food.
  2. Warm It Right
    Your baby enjoys foods at room temperature, but if it was previously frozen or refrigerated, you may need to warm it to get it there. "Frozen cubes of food can be thawed in the refrigerator or placed in a container that is then placed in a larger container of warm water," says Dr. Marta Kosinski, a professor of pediatrics at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital. She suggests using a glass container to carefully reheat the food in the microwave or gently heating water on the stove and placing a jar of food in it to warm. After heating, the FDA recommends stirring it well, letting it stand 30 seconds and taste-testing with a clean spoon before feeding. Food should feel lukewarm so that it doesn't burn your baby's mouth. If using a food thermometer, aim for 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Always warm food just before serving to avoid letting it sit exposed to germs for too long.
  3. Beware of Cross-Contamination
    According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), food will spoil quickly after contact with germs from your little one's mouth. Instead of feeding your baby directly out of the jar, use a clean spoon to put a small portion of food into a serving dish. If your baby wants more, spoon out another portion using a second clean spoon. To avoid spreading your germs, don't blow on the food to cool it, and use your own clean spoon to taste or check temperature.
  4. Store It Smartly
    One of the biggest baby food safety risks comes from food left out too long. As the USDA notes, bacteria grows most rapidly between 40 and 140 degrees. According to Clemson University, baby food spoils especially easily because it's pureed or ground and doesn't contain the preservatives found in many processed foods. Whether in a jar or a pouch, shelf-stable baby foods (not sold frozen or refrigerated) can be kept in your cupboard until the expiration date on the package as long as they still have their original seals (if a container is cracked, opened or has a hole, however, don't use it).

    The moment the food is opened, it must be refrigerated at a temperature of 40 degrees or below or served within about two hours, according to Dr. Kosinski. There is one exception: If the temperature in the room is 90 degrees or greater, the Washington State Department of Health says to refrigerate or discard food within one hour. Most baby food can be kept for one to two days in the fridge, but the USDA recommends that any pureed meats be tossed or used within 24 hours. Using the freezer? Frozen baby food will keep up to six months, Tallman says. If you're taking it on the go, make sure it's packed in an insulated cooler with a cold pack.
  5. Toss Food Out
    When mealtime's over, don't save the scraps for later. "It is not safe to keep unfinished baby food -- what is not eaten should be discarded," Dr. Kosinski says. Toss anything that's been heated or has come into contact with your baby's mouth. This may seem wasteful at first, but with a little practice, you'll be able to better guess how much your little one will eat and get portions right the first time.

To learn how to safely prepare baby food, check out these 5 Safety Tips for Making Baby Food at Home.

Nancy J Price is an Arizona-based mother of four as well as a writer, editor and web developer. She was one of the original co-founders of SheKnows.com and now writes for several websites, including Myria.com and ClickAmericana.com.

* This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan. Neither Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.

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