Safe Handling for Breast Milk, Formula, and Baby Food

Safe handling of breast milk, formula, and baby food is important because infants and young children are at higher risk for foodborne illness since they do not have fully developed immune systems.
Safe Handling for Breast Milk, Formula, and Baby Food - Articles


Bottle with milk and manual breast pump by Pavel Ilyukhin on Bigstock

Infants and young children are at higher risk for foodborne illness because they do not have fully developed immune systems. Extra care should be taken when handling and preparing their milk and food to prevent harmful microorganisms from making them sick.

The first step in safe food handling is keeping everything clean. This starts with washing your hands for at least 20 seconds in warm soapy water. The simple process of washing your hands can prevent the spread of harmful microorganisms that could make your child sick. Clean bottles, nipples, and eating utensils/areas with hot soapy water after each use and sterilize bottles and accessories after being washed.

Breast milk should be collected and stored in sterilized bottles or breast milk storage bags and stored in the refrigerator at 40° F or below. Freshly pumped milk can be left out at room temperature for no longer than 3-4 hours. Any breast milk that will not be used in 24-48 hours can be frozen and stored for 3-6 months. When defrosting breast milk, do so in the refrigerator or under warm running water. Never thaw the milk at room temperature, in the microwave, or in boiling water. Once defrosted, breast milk must be used within 24 hours and cannot be refrozen. Be sure to label any milk that is stored with the date that it was pumped and to clean and sterilize breast pump pieces regularly.

Formula should be prepared in clean and sterilized bottles. Open bottles of liquid ready-to-use formula can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours. Formula prepared from powder should be stored in the refrigerator and used within 24 hours. Once a bottle is prepared, throw away any leftovers because harmful microorganisms from the baby’s mouth may have entered the bottle during the feeding. Check expiration dates on formula, as food quality and vitamin levels decrease over time. It is not recommended to freeze formula.

According to the American Pediatrics Association, solids can be introduced to infants at 6 months of age. When you start your child on solids, there are recommendations you should follow to make sure the baby food is safe. When selecting the food, make sure the container is in good condition, free from any evidence of tampering or damage. When feeding your child, spoon the amount your child is eating into a separate bowl and place the rest in the refrigerator. Do not feed the child directly from the jar unless you plan to discard any leftovers. Saliva on the spoon can contaminate the rest of the food in the container. If you make your own baby food, make sure you clean all parts of the baby food maker, utensils, and storage containers thoroughly before beginning. Baby food can be stored for the following times:

  • Fruits and vegetables: 2-3 days in the refrigerator, 6-8 months in the freezer
  • Meats and eggs: 1 day in the refrigerator, 1-2 months in the freezer
  • Combination foods: 1-2 days in the refrigerator, 1-2 months in the freezer
  • Homemade baby food: 1-2 days in the refrigerator, 3-4 months in the freezer

If you have any questions on this topic, or any food safety questions, contact your local Penn State Extension Office.

Nicole McGeehan is a Penn State Extension educator serving Monroe County and surrounding counties in Northeast Pennsylvania.