Storing baby food
What to Know
- Storing homemade and store-bought pureed foods
- Thawing and re-heating pureed foods
Whether you buy baby food at the market or make it from scratch, it’s important to know how to store, prepare and reheat your baby’s food correctly and safely. Store-bought baby food usually comes in a glass jar, plastic container or resealable pouch and does not require refrigeration or freezing before opening. These foods are manufactured to be shelf-stable, like any other pantry item (think beans, soups, or condiments). They can typically stay fresh on the shelf for 1-2 years, but always check expiration dates carefully.
Homemade fresh baby food can be stored like any other fresh fruit or vegetable. After cooking and processing your purees, vegetables and fruits can stay in the refrigerator for up to 48-72 hours and in the freezer for a maximum of 3 months. Be sure to refrigerate freshly cooked baby food within 2 hours as bacteria will start to grow at room temperature after those 2 hours are up. If you’re making baby food with meat, poultry, or fish, refrigerate any leftovers and toss them out if not eaten within 24 hours of cooking.
Note that your refrigerator should be kept at, or below, 40 degrees F. Any warmer and illness-causing bacteria can thrive and quickly multiply. (For even more information, see Making your own baby food).
You have several options for warming refrigerated or shelf-stable foods and thawing frozen foods for your baby:
- Microwave: Warm up store-bought food directly in its glass jar or transfer the food – including previously frozen purees – into a separate glass bowl (neverheat up pureed food in a plastic container or pouch).Reduce the microwave to 50% power and then warm the puree in 15 second increments. Check and stir the food thoroughly each time to ensure even heating and to eliminate any heat pockets that may burn your baby’s mouth.
- Stovetop: Warm your baby’s store-bought food or thaw frozen food on the stovetop by placing the food in a small saucepan and warming on low heat until the puree is the same consistency and no longer frozen. To preserve the nutrients, heat only as much as is necessary.
- Submersion Method: Thaw frozen food by placing the pureed cubes in a small glass bowl inside a larger bowl filled with hot or warm water. This method allows for even warming but does take a little longer – figure about 10-20 minutes for the food to thaw fully. Many parents also use the submersion method to thaw frozen breastmilk.
- Refrigerator: Thaw frozen baby food simply by transferring it to the refrigerator. This process will take 4-12 hours so plan ahead (transferring the food the night before it’s needed to allow thawing overnight is a good rule of thumb). Homemade frozen baby food that’s been thawed can safely stay in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours. Be sure to keep thawed baby food in a sealed container to avoid contamination.
What to Do
Freeze purees in ice cube trays or on a cookie sheet
Sanitize or thoroughly clean standard ice cube trays before spooning the puree directly into each cubed section. Cover the tray with plastic wrap and place into the freezer. Once the cubes are solidly frozen, pop them out and store them in separate plastic freezer bags. Label the bags with the type of food as well as the date, since you want to make sure you only store baby food in the freezer for 1-3 months. When your baby is ready to eat, grab an individual portion of the cubes you want to use and thaw!
Ice cube trays are not only convenient, they are also incredibly helpful in portioning out your baby’s food. The cubes are roughly 1 ounce each, so you can easily measure the amount of food your baby is eating and you can also thaw small portions at a time to reduce waste.
Don’t worry if you don’t have ice cube trays readily available – you can also use a regular baking sheet lined with wax paper. Spoon portions of the prepared puree into small mounds on the baking sheet – as if you were making cookies – and place the entire sheet into the freezer. Once frozen, transfer the puree mounds into labeled freezer safe bags, just like the individual ice cubes. Choose whichever method is more convenient for you!
Beware of freezing in glass containers
Glass baby food jars (or any glass container) are not meant to freeze. Frozen glass can burst or cause tiny fractures in the glass leaving behind microscopic shards that you may never see.
Freeze baby food in safe “ok to freeze” plastic containers instead.
Consider a deep freezer if you want to store purees long-term (up to 3 months)
For best results, frozen foods should remain at a constant sub-zero temperature. A deep freezer is better equipped to handle this temperature control as opposed to your regular freezer, which may fluctuate with you opening and closing the door often.
Throw away leftover food that’s already been reheated
You cannot reheat (or re-freeze) food more than once, so once you’ve thawed a frozen puree, toss any leftovers.
This rule also applies to breastmilk. So if you’re using breastmilk to thin out your homemade baby food purees, add the milk while it’s fresh!
You can also use formula to thin a puree. Do not freeze formula in its original can or bottle, but once mixed into a puree it’s ok to freeze. As the formula companies note, freezing formula causes a separation of the fats from the liquid, which may negatively impact the texture and quality, but there is no health risk to freezing formula.
Never feed baby straight from the storage container
Once you begin feeding, bacteria from your baby’s mouth will transfer from the spoon back into the container making it unsafe to keep the leftovers. So if you know your little one is not going to finish the whole portion, pour the amount you think she will eat into a separate bowl before the meal starts to avoid waste. You can always add more if she’s still hungry – which is why you have those small separate frozen portions ready to go!
Freezing and Food Safety. United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service. Infant Nutrition Council of America. Date accessed 6 August 2018.