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The ultimate guide to baby formula: Storage, handling, and safety tips

Nikki Stevenson

Nikki Stevenson

Nikki is a parenting writer and a mom to three wild boys who keep her on her toes (and occasionally make her question her sanity). With over 15 years of experience in the parenting industry, she has more tips and tricks than Mary Poppins on speed dial. When she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can find her sipping on coffee, hiding in the bathroom for five minutes of...
Created on Mar 28, 2024 · 7 mins read

There's a peculiar time warp in the life of new parents. Minutes can feel like hours during a midnight feed, yet somehow, figuring out the do's and don'ts of formula feeding passes in a blur of sleep-deprived confusion.


One of the most frequent puzzles we find ourselves trying to solve? How long can baby formula be left out before it ventures into the “no-go” zone.

This guide is here to navigate these common questions easily, minus the complexity. No jargon, no overwhelming details, just straightforward advice to make formula feeding a bit easier.

Let’s dive into the essentials of formula preparation and storage, breaking down everything from how to properly prepare your baby’s bottles to the nitty-gritty of formula shelf life. Consider this your go-to resource for making formula feeding a smooth process for you and your baby.

How do I prepare my baby's bottles?


Preparing your baby’s bottle might seem straightforward, but in the sleepy haze of early parenthood, even the simplest tasks can feel like a high-stakes operation. Whether you’re mixing powdered infant formula or using liquid concentrate, the goal is to ensure that it’s safe, nutritious, and just the right temperature for your little one.

First things first, always wash your hands thoroughly before you start. For powdered formula, start by reading the label instructions on your chosen brand of infant formula carefully. Generally, you’ll boil water to kill any harmful bacteria, let it cool down to a safe temperature (usually recommended to no less than 22°C), and then add the water to the formula powder according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Remember, the key here is precision: too much water and you dilute the nutritional value, but too little and you could make the formula too concentrated for your baby’s developing digestive system.

For those opting for liquid concentrate or ready-to-feed formula, your life is a tad simpler, but always ensure they’re at a safe temperature before feeding your baby. A good rule of thumb is to test a few drops on the inside of your wrist- it should feel warm, not hot.

No matter the type of formula you go with, avoid using a microwave to warm the bottles as it can create hot spots that might burn your baby’s mouth.

Instead, consider using a bottle warmer or warm the bottle by placing it in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes. Always gently swirl the bottle to even out the temperature and test it again before feeding.


Can prepared formula stay in the fridge?


Once you’ve mastered the art of preparing your baby’s formula, the next step is figuring out how to store infant formula safely.

Here are some key points to keep in mind:

  • Safety first: Once you prepare formula, it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. It’s crucial to store it in a clean bottle with a lid to minimise the risk of contamination.
  • Label and time: Always label your prepared bottles with the date and time they were made. This helps ensure you use the oldest ones first and avoid any guesswork about their freshness.
  • Back of the fridge: Place the prepared formula in the back of the fridge, where the temperature is most consistent. Fluctuating temperatures from the fridge door can promote bacterial growth.
  • Check for signs: Before using refrigerated formula, always check for any odd smells or discolouration. If in doubt, it’s safer to discard it than risk making your baby sick.

While refrigeration can keep prepared baby formula safe for consumption, remember that once your baby has started feeding from a bottle, any leftover formula should be used within one hour or discarded.


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How long can formula sit out at room temperature?


Navigating the do’s and don’ts of preparing formula includes knowing how long prepared formula can safely sit out at room temperature.

Formula time limit

The golden rule is that prepared formula should not be left out at room temperature for more than two hours. Beyond this period, the risk of bacterial growth increases, potentially making it unsafe for your baby. Consuming formula that has been out for too long can expose your baby to bacteria, which could lead to illness.

How long to leave formula after feeding?

If your baby doesn’t finish their bottle within one hour, it’s best to discard the remaining formula. The combination of formula with saliva can create an environment ripe for bacterial growth.

Room temperature range to leave formula

Typically, ‘room temperature’ refers to about 20°C to 22°C (68°F to 72°F). In warmer climates, the safety window for leaving leftover formula out may need to be shorter.

How long can formula be left out?


Understanding the shelf life of unopened baby formula is crucial for ensuring you have a fresh and safe supply for your baby. The duration varies depending on the type of formula and how it’s stored. Always check the expiration date on the formula packaging. This date is set by the manufacturer to guarantee the quality and nutritional content of the formula.

Store it in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and extreme temperatures. Avoid storing formula in areas prone to humidity or fluctuations in temperature, as this can affect its shelf life.

Types of Formula:

  • Powdered formula: Generally, powdered formula has the longest shelf life among the different types. When stored properly in a cool, dry place, unopened formula can typically last until the expiration date indicated on the packaging.
  • Liquid concentrate and ready-to-feed: These types of formula often have shorter shelf lives compared to powdered formula. It’s essential to follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding storage and use-by dates to ensure freshness and safety.

Can you reheat formula?


Reheating formula raises safety and nutritional concerns, especially if it’s been previously warmed or left out. Uneven heating can create hot spots, risking burns to your baby’s mouth. While reheating is not recommended, if necessary, warm formula gently in a bowl of warm water.

Always test the temperature before feeding. Avoid baby bottles in microwaves as they can create hot spots. Prioritise your baby’s safety and ensure each feeding is at a safe temperature for consumption.

How often should I clean my baby's bottle?


Maintaining hygiene in your baby’s feeding equipment is paramount for their health. Here are some practical steps to ensure cleanliness and safety:

Bottle washing frequency and method

Clean your baby’s bottles after every use to prevent bacterial growth and contamination. Disassemble the bottle and rinse each part under running water to remove any remaining milk or formula residue. Wash the bottle and its components with hot water and mild dish soap, using a bottle brush to reach into crevices. Rinse thoroughly to remove all soap residue.

Bottle drying

Allow the bottles to air dry on a clean dish rack or dry with a clean towel. Avoid drying bottles with cloths that may introduce bacteria.

Bottle sterilisation

Sterilise the bottles regularly, especially when your baby is young or if they’ve been exposed to illness. You can sterilise bottles using boiling water, steam sterilisers, or microwave sterilisers according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Our top 5 tips for formula storage and handling


  1. Transporting formula: When on the go, use insulated cooler bags to keep prepared baby formula at the right temperature. This ensures that your baby’s feed stays fresh and safe, even during outings.
  2. Utilise ice packs: When travelling or during hot weather, consider using ice packs to keep baby formula cool. Place them alongside prepared bottles in your nappy bag or cooler to maintain freshness.
  3. Use sealed containers: When storing powdered formula, transfer it to airtight containers to maintain freshness and prevent moisture from affecting the powder. This helps preserve the quality of the formula for longer periods.
  4. Monitor temperature: Keep an eye on the temperature of your refrigerator and storage areas to ensure they remain within the recommended range for formula storage. Fluctuations in temperature can affect the quality and safety of the formula.
  5. Avoid freezing formula: While it may be tempting to freeze formula for later use, it’s not recommended as it can alter the texture and nutritional content. Stick to refrigeration or room temperature storage for optimal freshness.

By following these top tips for formula storage and handling, you can ensure that your baby’s feeds are always safe, fresh, and nutritious.


Sources:

https://www.health.state.mn.us/docs/people/wic/localagency/training/nutrition/modules/introformula.pdf

https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/infantandtoddlernutrition/formula-feeding/infant-formula-preparation-and-storage.html

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