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Safe Food Makes Happy, Healthy Babies


Babies are at a greater risk for food-borne illness than older children or adults because of immature immune systems. So, whether you use commercial formula or food or make your own, follow this advice from the Alberta Home Economics Association's Food Safety Info Line when preparing to feed little ones

For babies under four months of age, equipment for the collection of expressed breast milk and the preparation equipment for formula and storage containers (for both expressed breast milk and formula) should be sterilized.

Breast milk can be expressed and stored safely in the refrigerator for 24 hours. For longer storage, freeze in clean bottles, small glass jars or freezer bags. Label containers with the date. Maximum storage time is three weeks in the freezer section of a refrigerator and three to six months in a deep chest freezer. Thaw a container of frozen breast milk in the refrigerator or place the container in cold water. The milk will separate upon thawing. Reblend by gently shaking the container.

When using concentrated liquid or powdered formula, carefully follow the label instructions for sterilizing the bottles, nipples, nipple caps and water for the formula.

For babies over four months of age, a dishwasher may be used to clean the equipment and containers, or they can be washed in hot soapy water and rinsed well with hot water.

Once a can of concentrated liquid formula has been opened, it should be used within 24 hours. Freezing commercial liquid formula is not recommended because the freezing causes changes in consistency. Homemade infant formulas should be used only when breast milk or commercial infant formula is not possible.

You should obtain adequate preparation instructions, which should be followed closely (in Calgary, contact your district office of Calgary Health Services). No more than a 24-hour supply of formula should be prepared at one time, and it should be refrigerated until used. After feeding, throw out any formula or breast milk left in the bottle. Use only pasteurized milk. Raw (unpasteurized) milk may contain harmful bacteria. All milk sold in stores is pasteurized. If using milk obtained directly from a farm, you must obtain adequate information on how to pasteurize it (in Calgary, contact Calgary Health Services or the Food Safety Info Line).

Burning little ones with overheated formula or food can be another food safety problem. Remember they like their food warm, not hot. Before serving, check the temperature of the food or beverage on the inside of your wrist. A microwave oven can be a great timesaver when heating commercial or homemade formula or food. However, hot spots can develop. So stir or shake the food or formula, then test the temperature before serving. Droplets of water in commercial jars of meats and dinners heat faster than protein or fat particles which can cause the contents to spatter or the jar to break. So when heating these products in a microwave oven, transfer only the amount that will be eaten to a clean, shallow microwaveable bowl; cover with microwaveable plastic wrap, leaving a vent for steam; then heat on low to medium setting for less than 45 seconds. The smaller the amount, the less time will be required.

When your baby starts on solid foods you may choose to make your own. Start with good quality fresh or frozen produce and lean meats. Be sure your hands and all your utensils, bowls, blenders and cutting boards are clean before and during preparation. Work quickly so that food is in the "danger zone," (between 40 degrees Celsius and 60 degrees Celsius where harmful bacteria can multiply rapidly,) for as little time as possible. Cook in a minimum amount of water and use the cooking water for blending, as it will contain vitamins from the food. Be sure to puree food thoroughly.

An infant can choke on a small lump. Serve the pureed food right away or immediately refrigerate or portion into an ice cube tray or onto a waxed paper-lined cookie sheet or plate and freeze. Then store each different kind of frozen cube in a tightly sealed, labeled freezer bag in the coldest part of the freezer. Use refrigerated puree within two days. Frozen portions can be stored for one to two months. Thaw these portions in a covered, clean custard cup in the refrigerator. To thaw and heat quickly, set the cup in a pan of hot water or in a microwave oven. Serve immediately and do not refreeze leftovers.

Unopened commercial baby foods can be stored for longer than homemade foods. Use before the "recommended best before dates." Always check that commercial baby food containers are properly sealed before opening. Then when opening, listen for that familiar popping sound, which indicates a vacuum seal breaking. Don't even taste the contents of a jar if the lid does not pop, the lid is raised or bulging, the seal has been broken or there is leakage.

When feeding, saliva is transferred to the food from the spoon. Therefore start out with a small amount of food in a separate dish and refill as necessary. Leftover, unused commercial baby food can be kept covered in the refrigerator for as long as two to three days.

For more information, call the Alberta Home Economics Association's Food Safety Info Line. (Throughout Alberta you can call toll-free: 800-892-8333; Calgary residents call: 287-0098.)

Debbie Brekke is a home economist with the Alberta Home Economics Association's Food Safety Info Line.

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