Food safety

Just as food keeps us alive and healthy, if cooked, stored, handled, served in the wrong way it can also cause horrible illness, and even death, so being on top of food safety is of huge importance, especially where young babies and children are concerned.

Top food safety tips

  1. Never leave your baby alone with food, especially finger food.
  2. Always cut up small round foods such as cherry tomatoes, grapes and olives before giving as finger food
  3. Heat food thoroughly (piping hot) before feeding (unless it’s from a jar and can be served warmed). But ensure it’s adequately cooled before serving. Babies mouths are much more sensitive than ours. Always stir and check food after heating in a microwave to ensure no hotspots that can burn your babies mouth.
  4. Fresh meat/fish purees can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for 24 hours and veg/fruit purees for 48-72 hours.
  5. Always defrost home frozen food thoroughly before cooking. Overnight in the fridge is best. And eat within 12 hours
  6. Don’t leave baby food out of the fridge/freezer for longer than 2 hours.
  7. When weaning test food for any allergic reaction before introducing the next one.
  8. Don’t give whole nuts to a baby or toddler as they pose a serious choking risk
  9. Cover food in the fridge to reduce risk of contamination from other food  (such as raw meat) and to keep freshness in.
  10. After preparing raw meat and fish wash hands and utensils and all surfaces thoroughly
  11. Don’t reheat baby’s left over’s from his or her plate/bowl/jar.
  12. Don’t keep reheating food over and over – only reheat it once.

Food preparation and cooking

Always wash and dry your hands thoroughly before you start preparing any food, and make sure preparation surfaces are wiped clean. Re-wash your hands after you’ve touched any raw meat and fish (or been to the toilet!)

Keep raw meat and fish away from all ready to eat food to prevent contamination. And make sure you use different cutting boards and utensils for the same reason.

When heating and cooking food make sure it’s steaming hot all the way through before serving. Best way to check this is to put a fork or small knife through the middle – if it’s steaming hot there it’s most likely steaming hot all the way through.

If your checking a burger, sausage, piece of pork or chicken, there should be no more pink meat left, plus steaming hot. For chicken the juices should run clear (ie not cloudy or bloody). And although red meat like beef and lamb can be eaten rare, it’s best to make sure all meat, and fish, is very well cooked for babies and children.

Leftovers are great for feeding to babies and children, however make sure food that hasn’t been eaten is cooled as quickly as possible and stored in a fridge within a couple of hours. Leftovers should be eaten within 2 days. Only reheat once.

Storage

Bad/insificient storage of fresh food is one of the main causes of food poisoning, and food poisoning in infants can be incredibly serious so it’s worth being extra vigilant about the storing of your child’s food (and yours for that matter!).

When storing food in a fridge check it’s covered/wrapped well to keep freshness in and to stop cross contamination of other foods.

Always store raw meat away from cooked food, and preferably at the bottom of the fridge to prevent drips.

Always check the label on shop bought food. Use by dates mean use by the date printed on the label otherwise it could begin to be off – also pay attention to the “eat within 2 days of opening” part. Best Before is more about quality than if the food will be off. For example eggs, if stored in the fridge, can be eaten up to 3 weeks after the best before date, but just may not be as nice.

Some jars and bottles from the cupboard need to be stored in a fridge once open – check the label.

Try not to leave food out of the fridge for longer than 4 hours  (if previously refrigerated so already chilled). Food that has been cooked and is cooling should go into the fridge within 2 hours – especially on warm days!

When freezing food, freeze as soon as cooled or before the use by date on packaged food.

When defrosting food from a freezer to cook, either defrost over night in the fridge of quickly in a microwave just before cooking. Try and eat defrosted food within 1-2 days.

See our cooking baby food page for storage time in a freezer.

Serving up food

Make sure heated food is cool enough for you baby before feeding or putting it in front of them to feed themselves.

Never leave your baby alone with food. Even if it’s yogurt and a spoon, always make sure they’re in view.

Always cut up larger chunks, and especially round food such as grapes, olives and cherry tomatoes. These are the perfect shape to get stuck in a child’s windpipe. And never give whole nuts, even if they have no allergy.

What to do if your baby starts choking

Many parents we’ve spoken to say their biggest fear when starting to feed their babies was choking. Babies have very sensitive gag reflexes (much further forward than adults) so food that may choke them will usually make them gag first and spit the food out. Babies also don’t have the same kind of “panic” which can make choking worse, so are quite efficient at coughing things up. However, there is still a risk, as with anyone, that some food may go down the wrong way. The most important thing is to stay as calm as possible and try and prepare yourself by reading the guidelines provided by the Red Cross here.

For information on food allergies, see our food allergy page.

For more information on food safety see the Food Standards Agency food safety section.

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