Baby Food and Infant Formula
Infants and young children are particularly vulnerable to foodborne illness because their immune systems are not developed enough to fight off infections. That's why extra care should be taken when handling and preparing their food and formula.
The most important action that you can take to prevent foodborne illness in your babies and children is to wash your hands. Your hands can pick up harmful bacteria from pets, raw foods (meat, poultry, seafood, eggs), soil, and diapers.
Always wash your hands:
- Before and after handling food
- After using the bathroom, changing diapers, or handling pets.
Other ways to keep your baby’s food safe:
- Check the packaging of commercial baby food before serving: The following may indicate that the food is contaminated or at risk of bacterial contamination:
- For jars: Make sure that the safety button on the lid is down. Discard any jars that don’t “pop” when opened or that have chipped glass or rusty lids.
- For plastic pouches: Discard any packages that are swelling or leaking.
- Don’t “double dip” with baby food: Never put baby food in the refrigerator if the baby doesn’t finish it. Your best bet: Don’t feed your baby directly from the jar of baby food. Instead, put a small serving of food on a clean dish and refrigerate the remaining food in the jar. If the baby needs more food, use a clean spoon to serve another portion. Throw away any food in the dish that’s not eaten. If you do feed a baby from a jar, always discard any remaining food.
- Don’t share spoons: Don’t put the baby’s spoon in your mouth or anyone else’s mouth – or vice versa. If you want to demonstrate eating for your baby, get a separate serving dish and spoon for yourselv.
- Never leave any open containers of liquid or pureed baby food out at room temperature for more than two hours: Harmful bacteria grows rapidly in food at room temperature.
- Store opened baby food in the refrigerator for no more than three days: If you’re not sure that the food is safe, remember this saying: “If in doubt, throw it out.”
General Information on Baby Food
Once Baby Arrives: Food Safety for Moms-to-Be (FDA)
Do’s and don’ts for feeding your baby, plus tips on microwaving baby food and when to call the doctor.
If you’re the parent or caretaker of an infant, you’ve probably heard that breast milk is the best source of nutrition for infants. In situations in which it’s not possible to breastfeed an infant, you may choose to use a commercially prepared infant formula.
Why can’t I give my baby cow’s milk?
Cow's milk by itself is not appropriate for infants less than 1 year old. Cow’s milk does not have the correct balance of nutrients for infants to grow and develop normally, and it can cause problems with anemia and kidney function.
Raw milk is never appropriate for infants – or anyone else. It should not be consumed by anyone at any time for any purpose. Raw milk can harbor dangerous microorganisms, such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, that can pose serious health risks.
But isn’t formula made from cow’s milk?
Most infant formula is made with cow's milk, but it has been modified and supplemented with additional nutrients. As a result, the formula is more nutritious and easier for the baby to digest than cow’s milk. Other formula options include soy-based formulas and hypoallergenic (or protein hydrolysate and amino acid-based) formulas. Special formulas are available for babies who are premature or have other health problems.
How does the government regulate infant formula?
The FDA does not approve infant formulas before they can be marketed. All formulas marketed in the United States, however, must meet Federal nutrient requirements. The FDA also monitors infant formula, which means that it inspects facilities that manufacture formula and analyzes samples.
What can I do to make sure that formula is safe for my baby?
Here are a few basic steps that you can follow to ensure that formula is safe from bacteria that can cause illness.
- Prepare safe water for mixing: Bring tap water to a roiling boil and boil it for one minute. If you use bottled water, follow this same process unless the label indicates that it is sterile. Then, cool the water quickly to body temperature before mixing the formula.
- Use clean bottles and nipples: You may want to sterilize bottles and nipples before first use. After that, it’s safe to wash them by hand or in a dishwasher.
- Don't make more formula than you will need: Formula can become contaminated during preparation, and bacteria can multiply quickly if formula is improperly stored. Your best bet: prepare formula in smaller quantities on an as-needed basis to greatly reduce the possibility of contamination. And always follow the label instructions for mixing formula.
General Information on Infant Formula
Infant Formulas (NIH MedlinePlus)
Trusted information on types of formula, recommendations, and side effects of improper use.
FDA 101: Infant Formula (FDA)
The basics on types of formula, along with safety tips and instructions for reporting problems.
Safe Preparation, Storage and Handling of Powdered Infant Formula (World Health Organization)
Guidelines on infant formula in English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Arabic, and Japanese.