Food safety for babies and toddlers

What to Know

  • Importance of food safety for babies and toddlers
  • Preventing foodborne illness
  • Other food safety considerations

Babies and toddlers are particularly vulnerable to foodborne illness because their immune systems are not yet fully developed. With an underdeveloped immune system, it will be harder for your baby to fight off an infection. It may also take him longer to get well. Because of this, it is imperative to follow proper food safety techniques to ensure that you are not putting your baby at risk.

Preventing Foodborne Illness

There are many ways to prevent foodborne illness in babies and toddlers including:

  • Good hygiene- Hand washing is the most effective measure you can take in preventing foodborne illness in your baby or toddler.
  • Avoiding at risk foods- Certain foods are more susceptible to bacterial growth and should not be given to your baby. These include:
    • Unpasteurized dairy products, including milk
    • Raw and undercooked eggs and foods containing raw or undercooked eggs
    • Raw and undercooked meat and poultry
    • Raw and undercooked fish and shellfish
    • Unpasteurized juices (unless freshly squeezed yourself)
    • Raw sprouts
    • Honey-do not give to children less than 12 months old due to the risk of botulism, a foodborne illness
  • Proper cleaning and sterilization of bottles, sippy cups, breast pump parts, and other baby feeding supplies
  • Proper handling, storage and reheating of breastmilk (See: Breastmilk pumping: Safe storage)
  • Proper handling and preparation of infant formula

Other Food Safety Considerations

Choking– Don’t let those pearly whites fool you. Just because your child has teeth, does not mean he is ready to handle all types of food. Babies and toddlers are at an increased risk of choking, so it’s important to provide age appropriate textures and appropriately sized foods.

Mercury– Certain types of seafood have a high mercury content, including albacore tuna, swordfish, mackerel, and tilefish. Fish is a great source of lean protein and can be included in your baby or toddler’s diet. When choosing fish, opt for low mercury choices like salmon, cod, chunk light tuna (in the can), pollock, tilapia, and catfish.

What to Do

  • Practice good hand hygiene– Wash your hands frequently with warm, soapy water for at least 10-20 seconds.
  • Avoid high risk foods –Refrain from giving your baby unpasteurized milk, cheese and juice, raw or undercooked meat, poultry, fish or eggs, raw sprouts, and honey if under 12 months old. These foods are more susceptible to bacterial growth.
  • Cook foods thoroughly– Cook foods like meats and poultry to recommended internal temperatures (below) to ensure harmful bacteria are killed.
    • Beef, pork veal and lamb- 145 degrees
    • Ground meats- 160 degrees
    • Poultry-165 degrees
    • Fish and shellfish-145 degrees
  • Don’t “double dip”- Feeding your baby straight from the jar can introduce bacteria from your baby’s mouth from the spoon into the food. Instead, spoon a small amount into a bowl and feed your baby from there. Throw out any food from the bowl that your baby did not eat. You can place whatever is left in the jar (that did not come into contact with your baby’s saliva) back in the refrigerator for later use.
  • Timing is key-Be familiar with recommended “safe times” for opened baby food
    • Strained fruits or veggies- 2-3 days
    • Strained meats- 1 day
    • Veggie and meat combos-2 days
  • Clean and sterilize- Be sure to wash bottles, sippy cups, feeding utensils, breast pump parts and other feeding supplies in hot, soapy water then rinse thoroughly.
  • Follow proper handling, storage and reheating of breastmilk guidelines- (See: Breastmilk pumping: Safe storage.)[
  • Follow proper handling and preparation of infant formula
    • Mix formula with safe water source
    • Prepared formula must be discarded within 1 hour after feeding your baby
    • Prepared formula that has not been given to a baby can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours
    • An open container of ready to feed or concentrated formula should be covered, refrigerated and discarded after 48 hours if not used
  • Prevent choking-Take these precautions to minimize the risk of your child choking.
    • Foods that pose a risk of choking should be avoided. Examples include nuts, whole grapes, hot dogs, raw carrots, raisins, popcorn, and portions of food that are too large.
    • Stay close to your baby during meals to make sure he is tolerating the foods appropriately
    • Make sure your baby or toddler is in a designated feeding chair like a high chair or booster seat
    • Allow baby to eat at his own, comfortable pace
  • When it doubt, throw it out – If you can’t remember whether the leftovers are from two days ago or last week, throw it out.
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