Ready-to-feed formula can be a convenient option for many new parents. Unlike the powder or concentrated forms, there is no need to mix or add any liquid before feeding it to your baby. When it comes to all types of baby formula, you could be putting your little one’s health at risk if you don't know how long you've been storing it and if you’re not storing it correctly, but because ready-to-formula is pre-mixed, parents want to pay special attention to the proper way to store ready-to-feed formula.
According to the FDA, 800,000 foodborne illnesses affect children under the age of 10 in the United States each year. Parents of infants should be particularly cautious in how they handle their children's food because their immune systems are not yet fully capable of fighting off bacterial infections.
If you are giving your baby ready-to-feed formula, it's important to pay close attention to the expiration dates on the formula containers, making sure to discard unused containers that have expired, even if they haven't been opened.
How long does ready-to-feed formula last?
When preparing bottles in advance with larger containers of ready-to-feed formula, your bottles and any open and unused formula should be covered and refrigerated until you are ready to use them. “It is important to read the manufacturer’s recommendations and follow that for different brands of ready-to-feed formula,” Dr. Preeti Parikh, M.D., board-certified pediatrician and executive medical director at GoodRx, tells Romper. “It will depend if it is liquid concentrate, ready-to-feed, or powder.”
If you are unable to use all the formula, the unused portion of an opened container should be discarded after 48 hours in the fridge. “Check the ‘use by’ date on the container for unopened containers,” says board-certified pediatrician Dr. Pierrette Poinsett, M.D.
“If your baby has already started to consume a bottle or ready-to-feed formula, the maximum amount of time it can sit out at room temperature is one hour,” Dr. Jessica Madden, M.D., board-certified pediatrician, neonatologist, and international board-certified lactation consultant, tells Romper.
How to store unopened ready-to-feed formula
For unopened ready-to-feed formula storage, it can be kept for several weeks to months at room temperature (68-72 degrees Fahrenheit) in a cool, dry place, depending on the expiration date.
For formula containers within the product expiration date, proper storage can help maintain the nutritional value and make sure it is safe for your infant to drink. Be sure to keep the formula in its original container until you are ready to use it and avoid temperature extremes for your baby’s safety, Madden notes, “i.e. below 32 degrees (freezing) or above 90 degrees [Fahrenheit].”
How to store used ready-to-feed formula
If your baby is unable to finish the entire bottle you've prepared in one sitting, don't put it back in the refrigerator. Bacteria from your baby's mouth can find its way into her bottle, which can grow and multiply, even with refrigeration and reheating, as the FDA notes. “Babies’ mouths are full of bacteria, and once they start drinking a bottle, this oral bacteria will contaminate the bottle and remaining formula and start to reproduce,” Madden explains. “After about an hour, the bacterial load will be too high to safely consume. You need to be especially cautious in regards to this when feeding a premature baby or infant with a compromised immune system.” Any additional formula that has not been consumed within one hour of preparation should be thrown out to avoid bacterial contamination, according to Madden.
How to store opened but unused ready-to-feed formula
If you have an opened container of unused baby formula or you prepared bottles ahead of time, both should always be stored in the fridge to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. “An opened container of ready-to-feed formula can be stored for up to 24-48 hours in your fridge (35-40 degrees Fahrenheit), as can prepared bottles which have not yet been consumed,” Madden tells Romper. Be sure that any container or bottle is capped or sealed completely closed as you store it.
You may not be able to keep up with when you bought your half and half, but by paying attention to manufacturer's guidelines and product expiration dates, you can be sure your baby's formula is always safe for them to drink.
Dr. Preeti Parikh, M.D., board-certified pediatrician and executive medical director at GoodRx
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