Just when you think you’ve got the hang of breastfeeding or bottle feeding, along comes solid food bringing a whole new world of mess to your kitchen and a whole new set of questions about how to keep your little one safe. This brief guide is full of hygiene and food preparation tips to help you out.
What’s different about baby food hygiene?
Babies’ tiny tummies are much more vulnerable than adults’ to the bacteria that can cause upset stomachs and food poisoning. It takes quite a while for their immune systems to develop fully and they also produce less of the stomach acid that helps kill harmful bacteria. If babies do get food poisoning, which often leads to vomiting and diarrhea, it can affect them more severely because their bodies are smaller and losing lots of body fluids can mean they get dangerously dehydrated.
So, while you may be happy to wolf down last night’s leftovers without any consequences, when it comes to preparing food and feeding your baby, it’s best not to take any chances.
What level of clean are we talking?
If you’ve been used to bottle feeding you’ll know all about the seemingly endless rounds of washing and sterilizing needed to keep your baby safe from harmful bugs. When it comes to solid food, you don’t need to go to quite the same lengths – you don’t need to sterilize all your baby’s bowls and spoons if they’re over six months, for example. But since your little one will now be coming into contact with lots of new foodstuffs and utensils, it’s a good idea to keep a clean regime going.
- Wash your hands with warm, soapy water before preparing food or feeding your baby. If you’re out and about and that’s not possible, you could use a wet wipe and hand sanitizer.
- Make sure your baby’s hands are clean before they start eating.
- Clean all surfaces for preparing or eating food, including chopping boards, with hot, soapy water. If you use a disinfectant liquid or spray, check it’s safe for use in food areas.
- Make sure you change your tea towels, hand towels, kitchen cloths and sponges regularly. Damp and dirty fabrics are a perfect breeding ground for harmful germs.
- Keep pets, dirty laundry and diapers away from surfaces where you’re preparing food or feeding your baby.
- Use a clean cloth soaked in hot, soapy water to wipe down baby’s high chair, table and bib after every meal, so it’s clean and ready for the next one.
- After use, wash all your baby’s bowls, cups, plates and cutlery in hot, soapy water or in the dishwasher. Store them somewhere clean and dry.
- If you use baby cups with small straws, teats or spouts, make sure you dismantle the parts and clean them out thoroughly – you may need a specialist bottle or straw brush.
Preparing and serving baby food safely
When you start down the road to weaning, chances are you’ll be spending a lot of time wiping food off your surfaces, floors, walls and maybe even ceilings. No matter where it ends up though, it all starts with making sure the food you put in front of your baby is safe to eat.
- Prepare raw foods separately from cooked and ready-to-eat food.
- Don’t wash raw meat, it will only splash bacteria around your kitchen. Cooking the meat thoroughly will kill any bacteria that’s in it.
- Wash all raw fruit and vegetables under cold running water and peel produce such as apples and carrots.
- Wash your hands every time you’ve handled raw meat, chicken, fish, shellfish, raw vegetables and eggs.
- If you’re serving your baby hot food, cook it or reheat it thoroughly (until you can see steam coming off it), then stir it well and allow to cool down to a safe warm temperature for them to eat.
- If you’ve got a large dish of food, transfer a small amount into your baby’s bowl instead of feeding them from the main dish. Once saliva has touched food it can spread germs quickly, so throw out any leftover food from your baby’s bowl or jar (if you’re feeding straight from a baby food jar).
- Defrost frozen food thoroughly before cooking or eating. Put it in the fridge overnight to defrost or, if you need it at short notice, use the microwave defrost setting.
- If you’re heating or reheating food in the microwave, stir it well to get rid of any pockets of heat.
- Make sure you only reheat food once.
- If you’re using jars of baby food, check the safety button ‘pops’ when you open the lid. If not, discard it as it means the lid isn’t fixed properly and the food inside might not be ok to eat.
- When you’re taking baby food out and about, use food within two hours or keep it in an insulated cooler bag.
- Avoid giving your baby unpasteurized milk or juice, raw eggs, honey (if they’re under 1), raw or lightly cooked shellfish, shark, swordfish, marlin, rice drinks, uncooked mold-ripened or unpasteurized soft cheeses.
- If your baby is under six months old, sterilize water for them to drink by boiling it first and letting it cool.
Storing baby food safely
Introducing your little one to a whole new world of flavours and textures can be great fun. Whether you’re batch cooking home grown veggies, pureeing every food known to man or working your way through the supermarket’s baby food aisle, keeping your fridge and freezer in order will make it easier to stay on top of food hygiene.
- As long as saliva hasn’t come into contact with it, you can store any leftover baby food – either in a jar or your own container – in the fridge for 24 hours. Check packaging of store-bought food as this sometimes varies.
- Check ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates and don’t feed to baby if you’re in any doubt.
- Cool down cooked food for no more than two hours before putting it in the fridge or freezer. If you’re storing it in the fridge, use within two days. In the freezer, different foods will last for different amounts of time. One to two months is generally ok, but check your freezer manual to be sure.
- Cooked rice should be cooled within one hour before putting it in the fridge or freezer and it only lasts 24hrs in the fridge.
- Keep raw meat, chicken and fish in covered containers at the bottom of the fridge and away from cooked or ready-to-eat food.
- Set your fridge to between 0 and 5 degrees C (32 to 41 degrees F). You can use a fridge thermometer to check the exact temperature if you need to.