Many parents are discovering that homemade baby foods can be a nutritious and often more economical alternative to baby foods available in stores. To ensure that the food is safe for your growing infant, follow these simple steps for selecting, preparing, and storing food.
Always begin with good quality ingredients. It’s best to use fresh food whenever possible, but you can also use frozen or canned foods. If you’re using processed fruits and vegetables, try to find products without added sugar, especially canned fruit packed in syrup.
Never feed these products to your baby or use them in homemade baby food:
- Dairy products made from raw, unpasteurized milk (may contain bacteria that can cause serious illnesses)
- Honey (puts your baby at high risk for botulism, a very dangerous illness)
- Home-canned food (may contain harmful bacteria if it was canned improperly)
- Outdated canned food
- Food from dented, rusted, bulging, or leaking cans or jars
- Food from cans or jars without labels
Preparing Baby Food
Because infants are at a higher risk of getting a foodborne illness than older children or healthy adults, it’s particularly important to follow these guidelines carefully:
- Wash your hands and any equipment used to prepare the food.
- Use separate cutting boards for meat, poultry and fish and for non-meat foods to avoid cross-contamination.
- Wash fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly under clean, running water. Even if you plan to peel a fruit or vegetable, such as cantaloupe or squash, be sure to wash it first.
- Store raw meats, poultry, fish, and dairy products in the coldest part of the refrigerator immediately after purchase.
- Cook meat, poultry, and fish thoroughly to kill any bacteria that might be present. Be sure to use a meat thermometer and cook all meats to an internal temperature of at least 160 ºF, fish to at least 145 ºF, and all white meat poultry to an internal temperature of at least 165 ºF. Check the Minimum Cooking Temperatures chart to be sure.
Storing and Reheating Baby Food
First and foremost: always throw away any uneaten leftover food in the baby’s dish!
Other ways to keep your baby’s food safe:
- Never allow cooked food to stand at room temperature for more than 2 hours (or more than one hour when the temperature is above 90 degrees)
- Do not store prepared baby food in the refrigerator for more than 24 hours for meat, poultry, fish, and eggs or more than 48 hours for fruits and vegetables.
- Thoroughly reheat refrigerated or frozen food to an internal temperature of 165 ºF.
- Never defrost baby foods by leaving them at room temperature or in standing water.
To freeze prepared baby food safely, put it into labeled and dated containers. You may freeze it for up to one month.
For more information, check these resources:
- Baby Food and Infant Formula (FoodSafety.gov)
Get the basics on baby food safety.
- Home-Prepared Baby Food (USDA)
This booklet provides excellent tips on preparing all sorts of baby foods.
What is one of the most important thing you can do to fight food poisoning? Here are a few hints:
- It takes only 20 seconds (if you do it the right way).
- It requires only 3 ingredients.
- Anyone can do it, even very young children.
The answer is Wash Your Hands. Over and over again, studies have shown that handwashing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of many types of infection and illness—including foodborne illness.
Wash Your Hands the Right Way
When you wash your hands the right way, it takes only 20 seconds and requires only three ingredients: running water, soap, and something to dry your hands (a clean towel or air).
Here’s how to do it:
- Wet your hands with clean running water (warm or cold) and apply soap.
- Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
- Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the "Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end twice.
- Rinse your hands well under running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry.
And here’s when to do it:
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- Before eating food
- After using the toilet
- After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After touching an animal or animal waste
- After touching garbage
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
What About Hand Sanitizers?
Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of germs on them. But, if soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer.
Important: Hand sanitizers are not effective if your hands are visibly dirty.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.
Always use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Here’s how to use hand sanitizer properly:
- Apply the product to the palm of one hand.
- Rub your hands together.
- Rub the product over all surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry.
For more information on handwashing, check out these resources:
- Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives
- CDC Kidtastics Podcast: All You Have to Do Is Wash Your Hands
- Video: Put Your Hands Together
Just before Christmas, the House of Representatives and the Senate passed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which President Obama signed into law on January 4, 2011. Here’s a quick look at some of the provisions in the new law:
- Issuing recalls: For the first time, FDA will have the authority to order a recall of food products. Up to now, with the exception of infant formula, the FDA has had to rely on food manufacturers and distributors to recall food voluntarily.
- Conducting inspections: The law calls for more frequent inspections and for those inspections to be based on risk. Foods and facilities that pose a greater risk to food safety will get the most attention
- Importing food: The law provides significant enhancements to FDA's ability to oversee food produced in foreign countries and imported into the United States. Also, FDA has the authority to prevent a food from entering this country if the facility has refused U.S. inspection.
- Preventing problems: Food facilities must have a written plan that spells out the possible problems that could affect the safety of their products. The plan would outline steps that the facility would take to help prevent those problems from occurring.
- Focusing on science and risk: The law establishes science-based standards for the safe production and harvesting of fruits and vegetables. This is an important step forward. These standards will consider both natural and man-made risks to the safety of fresh produce.
- Respecting the role of small businesses and farms: The law also provides some flexibility, such as exemptions from the produce safety standards for small farms that sell directly to consumers at a roadside stand or farmer’s market as well as through a community supported agriculture program (CSA).
Questions About the Law
Given the importance of this legislation, it is not surprising that people have many questions. Some are asking if the roles of USDA and FDA are changing. The answer is simple: the U.S. Department of Agriculture will continue to have primary responsibility for regulating meat, poultry, and egg products.
Another question people have been asking is “when will the changes happen?” There’s no easy answer to that question. Some of the changes from the law will go into effect immediately, such as the new mandatory recall authority. Other changes will require more time. And some of this simply comes down to budgeting.
The funding we get each year, which affects our staffing and our vital and far-ranging operations, will also affect how this legislation is implemented. For example, the inspection schedule in the legislation would increase the burden on FDA’s inspection functions. Without more funding, we will be challenged to implement the law fully without compromising other key functions. We look forward to working with Congress and our partners to ensure that FDA is funded sufficiently to achieve our food safety and food defense goals.
For more information about the new law, check out these resources:
- FDA Consumer Update: Food Bill Aims to Improve Safety
- From the Commissioner: Food Safety Modernization Act: Putting the Focus on Prevention
- Questions and Answers on the Food Safety Modernization Act