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Preparing Food Safely for Infants and Young Children

Infants and young children under five years old are especially vulnerable to foodborne illness because their immune systems are not fully developed and their stomachs also produce less acid, making it easier for harmful germs to invade their small bodies.

The following foods should not be fed to young children because of their potential to cause serious foodborne illness:

  • Raw or undercooked meat (particularly minced meat), poultry, fish and shellfish
  • Raw sprouts—such as alfalfa, clover and radish
  • Uncooked fermented meats, such as salami—check the label: ‘heat treated’ or ‘cooked’ products are safe. Do not feed young children products labelled ‘not heat treated’
  • Unpasteurised milk and products made from unpasteurised milk—such as raw-milk, cheese and other dairy foods made from unpasteurised milk
  • Unpasteurised fruit juices – except if you have freshly squeezed yourself. Only buy such products from established reputable suppliers or squeeze the juice yourself. To determine if a juice is pasteurised, check the label or contact the manufacturer. All freshly squeezed juices are unpasteurised.
  • Honey do not feed honey to infants aged under 12 months because of the risk of botulism
  • Raw eggs to prevent salmonella poisoning, cook all eggs thoroughly
(i.e. until the white is completely set and yolk begins to thicken) and do not use uncooked products containing raw eggs such as home-made ice cream or mayonnaise.
  • Hard, small, round and/or sticky solid foods are not recommended because they can cause choking and aspiration. 

Before you prepare food wash your hands, rinse and dry them thoroughly. Make sure the food preparation area chopping board and utensils have been washed with hot soapy water and well rinsed and dried before use.

All equipment, including bottles or cups, used to feed the baby must be sterilised before use, particularly in the first three months. Sterilising equipment and tablets for making sterilising solution are widely available and effective, provided manufacturers’ instructions are followed carefully. Sterilising solutions can be used for 24 hours before being changed. Equipment can also be sterilised by boiling it in water for five minutes.

Always follow the instructions on the infant formula packaging. Powder formula should be prepared fresh each day. It can be stored in the fridge for a maximum of 24 hours.

Baby bottles containing formula or milk should be stored in the fridge and warmed up immediately before use by placing the bottle of milk in hot water. Heating the milk in a microwave oven can cause variations in temperature throughout the milk and burn young mouths. Test the temperature of the milk before feeding the baby. Any partially consumed milk or formula should be discarded immediately.

Read the labels carefully on commercially prepared food and follow any preparation or storage instructions. Listen for a popping sound when opening vacuum-sealed jars as this shows that the jar’s seal was intact. This is particularly important with commercial baby foods; if the jar fails to pop when opened, do not use the food. Swollen or leaking cans or jars indicate that harmful bacteria may have grown and their contents should not be eaten.

Once opened, all commercially prepared foods should be stored in the fridge, preferably not in the can. Throw out the contents of any product if there is an unusual odour. Remove the amount of food to be fed immediately to a separate dish rather than feeding directly from the can or jar. This way, unused food in the can or jar can be covered and refrigerated for later use without the risk of contamination. Throw out any unused food in the dish and use a fresh clean spoon for every feed.

All normal rules for safe food handling are especially vital when cooking for a young child so keep hot food steaming hot, keep cold food refrigerated, cook food properly, separate raw and ready to eat food, keep kitchen and utensils clean and wash hands with soap, rinse and dry thoroughly.

Fill food container with just enough food for one serving. Harmful germs from a baby’s mouth can be introduced into food or bottle where it can grow and multiply even after refrigerating and reheating. Throw away any leftovers. Do not feed any later meals from the same container or spoon.


 SourceFood Safety Information Council website