Should I Use Old Baby Food?

Bill C.

Before answering the question of whether or not to use old baby food, a prior question must be asked and answered: When is baby food considered old? The response should be relatively easy for residents of the United States (US) because federal law requires manufacturers to put "use by" expiration dates on the labels of infant formula and baby food inspected by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Anyone accepting that baby food can be classified as old when the current date is past the "use by" date listed on the product's label is probably then ready to answer the first question, generally whether it is OK to use old baby food or not. If that answer coincides with the recommendation of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), it will be, "No."

Baby food.
Baby food.

It is almost instinctive to assume that the reason for not feeding old baby food to children is a safety issue. That assumption, however, can sometimes be incorrect. Canned or frozen foods may be safe to eat for relatively long periods after their posted "use by" dates. The USDA cautions against feeding babies food older than its "use by" date because of deterioration in taste and nutritional value rather than possible harm to the child. A full explanation of the USDA's position on dating formulas for baby food is provided in a food labeling fact sheet posted on the agency's website.

The circumstance of feeding a baby some food that is old but probably safe might be compared to serving guests cold pizza that was left out overnight. It is unlikely to kill them or even make them sick, but it probably won't be very appealing or tasty. Anyone tempted to use baby food that has outlived its "use by" date should probably first realize that he or she may well be offending the baby's sense of taste, then question whether it is wise to experiment with the baby's health.

In checking baby food labels for product codes, shoppers should be careful not to confuse the "use by" date with similar product codes also listed by manufacturers. Many products, baby food included, often also display "sell by" dates and "best if used before" or "best if used by" dates. When the current date is later than these dates on a baby food label, the product may sometimes still be suitable to give to a baby. A "sell by" date is simply the manufacturer's way of telling the store how long to offer a product for sale. The "best if used ... " dates pertain only to a product's peak flavor and do not necessarily mean that the product should be classified as old baby food.

Consumers should also keep the following caution in mind: Even baby food fresher than its "use by" date may not be safe to use if is damaged. Baby food should consistently be inspected for dents or leakage before and after purchase. In addition, anyone opening a container of baby food should make certain that the product's safety seal has remained intact to ensure it is safe to use.

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