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How to prepare baby food that’s safe

As the country basks in welcome sunshine and awaits announcement of the new royal baby, here are some important food safety rules to follow when preparing food for babies and toddlers.

Babies and toddlers are one of the most vulnerable groups when it comes to illness through cross-contamination of food. This is because their immune systems have not fully developed. It is therefore vitally important that extra care is taken in preparing food and drinks for them to consume.

As with older children and adults, babies are susceptible to many forms of food poisoning, for example Salmonella, E-coli, Campylobacter, Staphylococcus aureus, Botulism, and Listeria. However because of their delicate immune systems they are much more sensitive to contaminated food and the symptoms and consequences of food poisoning are often much more severe.

Handwashing

Before preparing food for babies and toddlers you should always wash your hands thoroughly, particularly after changing nappies or touching pets.

Clean surfaces and utensils

Preparation areas should always be cleaned with hot soapy water or antibacterial spray and rinsed with clean water. Utensils and containers to be used should be sterile.

Baby food purchased from a shop

It is not recommended to begin weaning a baby on to solid food until it is at least six months old. Commercially manufactured baby foods are produced under sterile conditions, with strict HACCP programmes to guard against the risk of contamination and cross contamination. Before feeding youngsters in your care, be sure to check ‘use by’ dates and storage instructions. If the safety button on a jar of infant food is raised or a pouch of infant food has inflated do not use it. When preparing pre-packaged food, always follow the manufacturers’ guidelines for heating and storage.

Making your own food for infants

Many parents prefer to make their own food for their little ones, but they should always be aware of possible food safety hazards when doing so. Fruits and vegetables, for instance, should be washed thoroughly, meat should be cooked all the way through and blending equipment, utensils, surfaces and storage containers should be sterile.

Refrigeration and storage of baby food

When refrigerating or freezing baby food the same rules apply as for other foods: i.e. it should be refrigerated at a temperature no higher than 5°C, it should be covered to protect cross contamination from e.g. raw meat and if freezing it should be placed in a suitable sterilised container and used within 3 months. Some people freeze pureed food in ice-cube trays as it helps with portion sizes. This is fine as long as the tray is sterile and covered before placing in the freezer.

Safe preparation of baby and infant formula

Prepared Infant Formula (PIF) is a substitute for or supplement to breast milk. There are two types:  ready-to-feed liquid and powdered formula which needs to be reconstituted with water. The risk of infection from pathogenic micro organisms such as salmonella and E Sakazakii is not an issue with ready-to-feed formula since this is prepared and packaged in a controlled sterile environment.

For powdered formula there are several points during preparation and storage when it could potentially become contaminated. However by following some basic safety rules this should be avoided:

  1. Make sure hands are clean, surfaces, containers, utensils (i.e. scoops, cups, bottles, blenders, teats etc.) are sterilised before you begin. Remember to clean both the inside and the outside of bottles.
  2. Always use sterile water to reconstitute the formula – i.e. water that has previously been boiled. Bottled water is not sterile!
  3. Reconstitute the powdered feed with water at no less than 70°C.
  4. Try not to make more formula than you need. If you do need to prepare formula for use later make sure it is refrigerated at no less than 5°C and use within 24 hours.
  5. If you are preparing formula for several infants (for instance if you are a nursery nurse, childminder, care worker or hospital worker or similar) always ensure that the containers in which you are preparing the feed are sterile. Ideally you should also have a dedicated preparation area and fridge. Also do not prepare formula in containers larger than 1 litre.
  6. Reducing feeding times will effectively reduce risk. Cool feeds quickly to feeding temperature and use within 2 hours.
  7. To re-warm formula that has been correctly stored in the refrigerator, make sure that it is removed from the fridge immediately before it is needed. Warm for no more than 15 minutes. Shake or swirl the feed in the covered container to make sure it heats evenly and discard any re-warmed feed not consumed within 2 hours.

Any person who prepares food for babies and children as part of their job needs to undergo basic food safety training. In larger organisations, written guidelines for the safe preparation, storage and labelling of food and baby formula should be established and monitored regularly.

For more details of how to obtain a Level 2 Food Safety qualification, please click here.