National Network for Child Care's Connections Newsletter
Dawn L. Hentges
Foods and Nutrition Specialist
Cooperative Extension Service
University of Illinois
Infants and young children are more likely than adults to get sick from bacteria found in food and milk. This is because their immune systems are not yet fully developed. Eating food that contains disease-causing bacteria may cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and sometimes fever. The symptoms may be mild to severe and may appear anywhere from 30 minutes to seven days after eating the contaminated milk or food. Parents and caregivers can help prevent illness caused by bacteria in food by safely preparing, storing, and serving formula and food. Listed below are recommended food handling practices for infant formula, expressed milk and solid baby foods.
Use infant formula before its expiration date. All infant formula
containers have a "use before," or "expiration"
date to ensure that the consumer receives a fresh, high quality
product. Vitamin levels decrease after the expiration date. There
may also be changes in the physical appearance of the formula.
For example, the formula may look discolored and the fat may have
separated from the liquid.
Avoid freezing infant formula or using formula that has been frozen. Freezing does not affect nutritional quality or safety, but physical separation of the product may occur.
Throw away any formula remaining in the bottle after feeding. Germs from the baby's mouth may have gotten into the remaining formula. Even if the formula is refrigerated, these germs can grow and multiply. Neither refrigeration nor reheating will completely prevent this growth.
Tightly cover and place cans of liquid formula in the refrigerator immediately after filling the bottle. Open cans of ready-to-use formula will remain safe for up to 48 hours. Prepared formula should be used within 24 hours.
Use sterilized bottles and boiled water when preparing infant formula until a physician or other health professional decides it is unnecessary. Be sure that your hands, the counter, and all equipment used during preparation are clean.
Milk, formula, or food left out of the refrigerator for more than two hours may be unsafe. Do not leave a bottle in the crib with an older baby. The milk may become unsafe to drink over time. Falling asleep with the bottle in the infant's mouth can also cause tooth decay.
Glass or heavy plastic baby bottles containing milk or infant
formula may be warmed in the microwave oven. Do not overheat.
Be sure to remove caps or nipples before warming. Since heat accumulates
in the top of the bottle, shake the bottle to distribute the heat.
Test the temperature by sprinkling a few drops on the inside of
your wrist. Your skin is more sensitive to heat here.
Do not microwave disposable baby bottles or bottles with disposable plastic inserts. Heating milk in these bottles may cause hot spots. This may weaken the seams causing the plastic to burst and spill hot milk on the baby. To heat a bottle with a disposable insert, place it under hot tap water until the desired temperature is reached.
Expressed breast milk is highly perishable. Milk should be
collected in sterilized 4-ounce plastic bottles or plastic bottle
liners. Immediately store the milk in the refrigerator. If you
must take breast milk with you, carry it in an insulated cooler
with ice or chill-packs.
Any milk that will not be used within 24-48 hours should be frozen immediately. Leave one inch of space at the top of the milk storage container to allow for expansion during freezing. Label the milk with the date it was expressed so that older milk can be used first. Frozen breast milk will keep for 3 to 4 months.
Thaw breast milk in warm water only - not in hot water or in a microwave oven. Do not refreeze breast milk. Shake the container of expressed milk before using it to distribute the fat within the milk.
At the Store:
Do not microwave solid baby foods in the jar. Studies have
shown that the food is unevenly heated. The center of the food
may be 170-200 F, while near the glass sides of the jar, the food
is only 48 F. If you must heat an entire jar, place it in hot
water and stir frequently. Or transfer the food to a dish and
heat it in the microwave. Stir and taste-test the food for temperature
before feeding. Babies should not be fed foods heated higher than
Fat heats faster than other substances in a microwave oven. Avoid microwaving baby food meats, meat sticks, or eggs. These foods have a high fat content and microwaving them can cause splattering and overheating. Warm these foods over hot water instead.
Immediately refrigerate any unused portions of food or liquid. Throw out any food or liquid that has been left at room temperature for over two hours.
Expressed breast milk: Refrigerator - 5 days, Freezer - 3 to
Formula: Refrigerator - 2 days, Freezer - not recommended
Whole milk: Refrigerator - 5 days, Freezer - 3 months
Reconstituted evaporated milk: Refrigerator - 3 to 5 days, Freezer - not recommended
Strained fruits and vegetables: Refrigerator - 2 to 3 days,
Freezer - 6 to 8 months
Strained meats and eggs: Refrigerator - 1 day, Freezer - 1 to 2 months
Meat/vegetable combinations: Refrigerator - 1 to 2 days, Freezer - 1 to 2 months
Homemade baby foods: Refrigerator - 1 to 2 days, Freezer - 3 to 4 months
Anonymous, "Baby foods in the microwave?" Gerber
Products Company, Fremont, Michigan.
Parmley, M.A. Winter 1992. Daycare and Food Safety - Emerging Issues. USDA, FSIS Food News for Consumers. 8(4):10.
Williamson, C. and Catadlo, G. 1992. Microwave-safe for baby. USDA, FSIS News for Consumers. 8(4):8.