Babies and young children have a more delicate digestive system than adults and are more at risk for dehydration if they get diarrhea from something they’ve eaten. Their immune systems are developing, which makes them more vulnerable to toxic chemicals. So paying attention to how you prepare, handle, and store their food is especially important. To keep baby food free of harmful bacteria and other foodborne pathogens that can cause illness. Here are some guidelines:
- Wash your hands with soap and water before handling baby food (or preparing formula or bottles of breast milk). Not only will you be keeping your baby safe, but regular hand-washing also helps to protect you from getting sick. Take an alcohol-based sanitizer or baby wipes with you when you take your baby to places like the park so you can clean your hands before feeding her if soap and water aren’t available.
- Pay close attention to expiration dates on baby food. Listen for the pop of vacuum seals of foods in jars. Don’t feed your baby anything that has expired, and throw out jars with chipped glass or rusty lids, or those that are leaking or missing a label.
- Transport food and filled bottles in an insulated cooler with frozen packs when you’re traveling.
- If you freeze homemade baby food, put the mixture into an ice-cube tray covered with heavy-duty plastic wrap in the freezer. If you put the frozen food cubes into a freezer bag or airtight container, label it with the date. Use vegetables and fruit within three months; meat, fish, and chicken within eight weeks. Use dishwashing detergent, hot water, and a clean dishcloth to wash and rinse all utensils that come in contact with baby food, including the can opener. Just wiping them with a paper towel isn’t enough.
- When your baby gets to the finger-food stage, which can be as early as 7 months, cut food into bite-sized pieces. But don’t give your baby nuts, raisins, grapes, popcorn, cherry or grape tomatoes, or hot dogs because they’re choking hazards for infants or toddlers. And always supervise your baby when she’s eating. Don’t give her food when she’s in her car seat and you’re driving, especially if she’s facing the rear.
- Don’t put uneaten portions of baby food in the refrigerator; just throw it out. Harmful bacteria from your baby’s mouth can multiply in the jars. If your baby is likely to eat less than a full jar, spoon a portion into a bowl and put the jar in the refrigerator for later. Jars that have been opened can usually be stored in the fridge for up to three days in the case of fruit and vegetables, one day for meat, and two days for meat and vegetable combos. Put dates on them with a permanent marker so you don’t lose track. Don’t leave perishable items, including breast milk and infant formula, out of the refrigerator without a cold pack longer than you absolutely need to. In general, any food that has been unrefrigerated for more than two hours should be discarded. Throw it away if it’s been sitting out longer. It’s also a good idea to always travel with an ice pack.
- Don’t feed your baby or child of any age home-canned food because it might have harmful bacteria that will make him sick. And don’t feed babies or children dairy products made from raw, unpasteurized milk or partly cooked or raw meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or foods that might contain them (such as homemade ice cream or eggnog), because of harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness. And don’t give a child cow’s milk before he’s a year old.
- Don’t give your baby honey if she’s less than a year old. It could contain bacteria associated with infant botulism, a potentially life-threatening disease. Also, avoid eggs until your baby is 6 months old, and then scramble them to make them easier to chew. Nuts are not recommended for babies less than a year old.