Food Safety for Babies and Toddlers

AngelaRD, LDN, CBS

Read time: 3 minutes

What to know about feeding your baby and toddler safely

  • Importance of food safety for babies and toddlers

  • Preventing foodborne illness

  • Other food safety considerations

Babies and toddlers are particularly vulnerable to foodborne illness because their immune systems are not yet fully developed.1 Because of this, it can be harder for your baby to fight off an infection and it may even take them longer to get well. To help reduce their risk of getting sick, it is imperative to follow proper food safety techniques.

Read on to learn the best food safety practices to help keep your baby and toddler safe while eating.

Helping prevent foodborne illness

There are many ways to help prevent foodborne illness in babies and toddlers including:

Good hygiene: Hand washing, as well as adequate washing of all utensils and surfaces, is the most effective measure you can take in preventing foodborne illness in your baby or toddler.1

This includes proper cleaning and sterilization of bottles, sippy cups, breast pump parts, and other baby feeding supplies.

Avoiding higher-risk foods: Certain foods are more susceptible to bacterial growth and should not be given to your child. These include:

  • Unpasteurized dairy products, including milk and cheese

  • Raw and undercooked eggs and foods containing raw or undercooked eggs

  • Raw and undercooked meat and poultry

  • Raw and undercooked fish and shellfish

  • Unpasteurized juices (unless freshly squeezed yourself)

  • Raw sprouts

  • Honey: do not give to children less than 12 months old due to the risk of botulism, a foodborne illness2,3,4

Appropriate handing and storing of breastmilk and formula. Proper handling, storage and reheating of breastmilk, as well as proper handling and preparation of formula are critical to help prevent bacterial growth.5,6,7

Read more: 

Safe Storage of Pumped Breastmilk

Everything You Need to Know about How to Prepare and Store Infant Formula

Other Food Safety Considerations

Choking: Babies and toddlers are at an increased risk of choking, so it’s important to provide age-appropriate textures and suitably sized foods.8

Depending on what stage of eating your child is at, make sure that any food you provide is either pureed, mashed, or a pea-sized (or thin strip) soft solid that is ‘smushable’ between your fingers.9 Once your toddler gets a little older and better at chewing and swallowing, firmer textures may be handled.

Learn about:

Preventing Choking in Infants and Toddlers

Introducing Solids: First Foods and Textures

Mercury: Fish is a great source of lean protein, and many fattier fish also have beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. However, certain types of seafood have a high mercury content, which may affect your child’s developing nervous system.10

Higher mercury fish include: Canned albacore tuna, bigeye tuna, swordfish, King mackerel, shark, and tilefish.11

Lower mercury fish include: Salmon, cod, anchovy, sardines, haddock, scallop, freshwater trout, canned chunk light tuna, pollock, tilapia, and catfish.11

For families who eat meat, the US Food and Drug Administration recommends eating low mercury fish 2 to 3 times per week as part of a balanced diet. For more information on mercury in seafood, please see these FDA recommended guidelines.11

Tips on safely feeding your infant and toddler

Cook foods thoroughly

Cook foods, such as meats, poultry, and fish, to recommended internal temperatures to ensure harmful bacteria are killed.

Safe minimum cooking temperatures:

  • Cuts of beef, pork, veal, and lamb: 145 degrees

  • Ground meats: 160 degrees

  • Poultry: 165 degrees

  • Fish and shellfish: 145 degrees12

Learn about: How Can I Make my own Pureed Baby Food?

Don’t “double dip”

Feeding your baby straight from the jar can introduce bacteria from your baby’s mouth from the spoon into the food. Instead, spoon a small amount into a bowl and feed your baby from there. Throw out any food from the bowl that your baby did not eat.3

If using a pouch, squeeze the amount you’d like to feed your baby into a bowl, or squeeze a small amount onto a spoon. Feed from the bowl or spoon, making sure not to touch the tip of the pouch spout to the spoon, which would introduce bacteria to the pouch.

You can place whatever is left in the jar or pouch (that did not come into contact with your baby’s saliva) back in the refrigerator for later use.3 Most manufacturers say these leftovers can be kept for 1 to 2 days in the refrigerator before needing to be thrown out.

Read more: How to Store Baby Food

Timing is key

Be familiar with the recommended “safe times” for opened jarred and pouch baby food:

  • Opened, strained fruits or veggies: 2 to 3 days

  • Strained meats and eggs: 1 day

  • Veggie and meat combinations: 1 to 2 days

  • Homemade baby foods: 1 to 2 days1

Clean and sterilize

Be sure to wash bottles, sippy cups, feeding utensils, breast pump parts and other feeding supplies in hot, soapy water then rinse thoroughly.

Learn about: How to Properly Clean your Breast Pump

Follow proper handling and preparation of infant formula

  • Mix formula with safe water source

  • Prepared formula must be discarded within 1 hour after feeding your baby

  • Prepared formula that has not been given to baby can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours

  • An open container of ready to feed or concentrated formula should be covered, refrigerated, and discarded after 48 hours if not used

Read more:

Formula Preparation: What Type of Water Should I Use?

Everything You Need to Know About How to Prepare and Store Infant Formula

Help prevent choking

Take these precautions to minimize the risk of your child choking:

  • Foods that pose a risk of choking should be avoided. Examples include nuts, whole grapes, hot dogs, raw carrots, raisins, popcorn, and portions of food that are too large.

  • Stay close to your baby during meals to make sure they are tolerating foods appropriately

  • Make sure your baby or toddler is in a designated feeding chair like a highchair or booster seat

  • Allow baby to eat at their own, comfortable pace8,13

When in doubt, throw it out

If you can’t remember whether the leftovers are from two days ago or last week, throw it out.

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How to Choose the Right Breast Pump

How much Formula does my Baby Need?

What to Know about Traveling with Infant Formula