Food safety is a major concern when you’re preparing meals for a weaning baby. After all, if you’ve ever had food poisoning, you’ll know just how unpleasant it can be – and for a small baby, it can even result in a hospital admission. But by following a few simple food hygiene precautions, you can keep your baby healthy throughout the weaning process.
Your baby’s immature digestive system is particularly vulnerable to bacteria, so it’s important to keep germs out of the kitchen when you’re preparing weaning food.
- Wash your hands thoroughly before preparing food for your baby.
- Keep a separate chopping board for preparing meat to avoid contaminating non-meat foods.
- Wipe surfaces before and after cooking, using an antibacterial cleaner.
- Ensure that the food you prepare for your baby is within its use by or best before date.
- Check that meat and eggs are cooked thoroughly before giving them to your baby.
- Wash tea towels and dishcloths frequently, and don’t use the cloth or sponge you use for washing up to wipe spills from the floor.
If you're cooking or serving food that doesn't contain breast or formula milk, then there's no need to sterilise the utensils or equipment. But make sure that everything is washed thoroughly in the dishwasher or with hot, soapy water, and either left to air dry or dried with a clean tea towel or kitchen paper. Any equipment or bowls and spoons that have been in contact with breast or formula milk do need sterilising. Feeding bottles, teats and breast pump components should also be sterilised until your baby is 12 months old.
Batch cooking – cooking up a big pot of food and then separating it into baby-sized portions to freeze or refrigerate – saves a lot of time when you’re weaning, but it’s important to store food safely to minimise the growth of bacteria. If you’re not using food immediately, cover it and leave it to cool down. Once it’s cool, you can transfer it to the fridge, where it will keep for two to three days, or the freezer, which will keep it safely for three months.
It’s safest to defrost food slowly by leaving it in the fridge overnight, but if you’re pushed for time, you can defrost it at room temperature or by transferring it to a shallow bowl and standing the bowl in hot water. It’s best not to use a microwave for defrosting, as this can start to cook the food, encouraging the growth of bacteria.
Heating baby food
To kill bacteria, always heat food until it’s piping hot and then leave it to cool down to a suitable temperature for your baby. Stir the food thoroughly before giving it to your baby, and taste it to check that it’s not too hot. You can heat baby food in a pan on the hob, by standing the bowl in hot water, or in the microwave – but take extra care when using the microwave, as it can create hot spots in the food which may burn your baby’s mouth.
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If your baby doesn’t finish a meal, throw the leftovers away: bacteria will have been transferred into the food from the spoon, and could potentially cause a stomach upset. To avoid waste, it’s better to dish up a small portion and go back for seconds if your baby is still hungry.
Unless you’re following a baby-led weaning approach, you’re likely to be giving your baby fairly smooth purees at first, but watch out for choking hazards when you’re preparing foods. Remove pips, cut up small fruit into tiny pieces and take out bones from fish. Never leave your baby unattended when she’s eating.
"I melted my ice cube tray!"
"My first experience of preparing homemade baby food didn’t go brilliantly. I was worried about hygiene so I put the ice cube tray in the sterilizer, but it was a rubber tray and it got completely melted out of shape. After that I realised that perhaps I should stick to washing and then running boiling water over my ice cube trays!"
Lou, 25, mum to Noah, 13 months