Monday 21 April 2014

Preparation is key to safe food storage

Preparing meals correctly will make sure your baby stays healthy, writes Rozanne Stevens

Before buying the fresh ingredients to prepare for your baby as he starts eating solid food, you'll need to invest in some basic equipment. Some of which you may already have, but some is very baby-specific.

If you have already bought bottles, you would have come across the term BPA. This is a toxic compound found in many plastics that is to be avoided at all costs.

I spoke to Irish mum and entrepreneur Siobhan Berry, founder of Babpotz – a range of BPA-free baby food containers.

Siobhan created this range when she found it difficult to source BPA-free plastic containers that could be used to store, freeze and reheat baby food safely. In simple terms, this is how Siobhan explains the dangers of BPA.

"BPA stands for Bisphenol-A. It is an organic compound that is used primarily to make plastics, and it's especially common in shatterproof plastics.

"It is valued for its binding properties. However, it is now clear that BPA has negative effects on the human endocrine system. It can mimic human hormones (it is known as an endocrine disruptor), and since hormones control how our bodies function, that's a big deal, especially in a developing infant.

"Research has shown that exposure to BPA can affect brain development, behaviour, prostate glands, mammary glands, thyroid function, cancer risk, heart disease, diabetes, birth defects, and even obesity.

"The risks are greatest while in the womb and as infants and young children, but early exposure has long-term ramifications, and there is still a risk for older children and adults, as well.

"It's important to understand that this has become the consensus of mainstream scientists and even government organisations."

Before you start any food preparation, you need to ensure that everything is spotless.

For a baby under six months of age, all equipment should be sterilised. Steam is a very effective way to sterilise utensils and containers. Hot soapy water is still the best for washing, just ensure that you rinse well with clean water to remove any chemical residue. There are eco-friendly and non-toxic cleaning solutions, like Milton, available.

Begin by washing your hands well with warm, soapy water and extending three inches beyond your wrist.

Rinse well to remove any soap and pat dry. Clean all surfaces and equipment with hot soapy water before and after preparing baby's food. Rinse fresh fruit and veg under running water and scrub those which have a tough skin. Wash your hands and baby's hands before eating as they will stick their hands in their mouths.

This is also a good lifelong habit to teach them, as many bugs and viruses can be avoided with proper hand washing.

Food preparation safety

Harmful bacteria likes to grow on raw, protein foods like meat, chicken and fish, more than any other food type.

Once the food is cooked, it is perfectly safe. But what you want to avoid is cross contamination, this is when raw foods and their juices come into contact with foods like fruit, which may not be cooked so won't kill the bacteria.

To avoid this, separate protein foods like raw meat, poultry, fish and eggs from foods that are ready to eat. This will help prevent the spread of bacteria. Use one chopping board for preparing raw meat, poultry, fish and eggs. Use a separate chopping board for fruits, vegetables and bread. Wash chopping boards, knives, peelers and cutlery after each use. Rinse the board well in cold water first to prevent 'cooking' say raw chicken into the surface of the board. Wash very well in hot, soapy water, rinse well then air dry. Do not pack away wet, as wet surfaces can breed bacteria. Do not place cooked food on surfaces or dishes that have held raw meat, poultry, fish or eggs.

Cooking and Internal Temperatures

I am a big fan of steaming as a cooking method as it retains up to 80pc more nutrients, especially veggies. You can invest in a very simple double boiler which is a stainless steel pot with perforated basket inserts that holds the food as it steams over boiling water. You can also get baby-specific appliances that will steam and even puree the food after cooking.

When cooking food, make sure that it is cooked to safe internal temperatures to kill off all bacteria. You can use a meat thermometer to test this. Bacteria dies at 75 degrees, so once the thermometer reads 74, it is ready. Certain bacteria favour different types of protein. For example, the bacteria on beef sits on the surface of the meat, that is why you can enjoy a rare steak. But minced beef has been ground, exposing more of the surface to bacteria, so must be cooked through.

* Ground meat – 74 degrees Celsius

* Beef – 71 degrees Celsius

* Poultry – 74 degrees Celsius

* Pork – 74 degrees Celsius

* Fish – 63 degrees Celsius

* Leftovers and casseroles – 74 degrees Celsius

Pureeing and Freezing

Baby's first foods should be runny and lump free. Mash very well with a fork or potato masher and add some water, breast milk or formula to thin out. For this stage, an electric blender is very handy to achieve a super smooth consistency, especially for fibrous foods such as chicken. You don't have to spend a fortune, a handheld blender with a small jug attachment is fine. Just ensure that the plastic is BPA free and that you wash it very well. After about eight months, you can leave a few lumps in the food to get baby used to eating textures.

If you wish to freeze a batch, decant the food into sterilised freezer-safe containers and allow to cool for an hour. Snap on the lid and refrigerate for four hours. Label and date the food and transfer to the freezer. Use within one month. Try Fill n Squeeze pre-sterilised pouches for convenient, reusable storage pouches.

Thawing and Reheating

You can thaw food in the refrigerator or in a sealed container which is submerged in cold water. It is not safe to thaw food on the kitchen counter at room temperature. Homemade baby food can be reheated in a pot or a bowl over a pot of boiling water, like a double boiler. Again, you can use a baby specific bottle and food steamer to reheat food. I am vehemently against microwaves as they do not cook and reheat food evenly, which can leave food piping hot on the inside and cold outside. There is also evidence to suggest that microwaves can denature food molecules, making it unhealthy to consume, especially for babies with an immature digestive system. Give the reheated food a good stir to get rid of any cold spots. Always test the temperature of food before feeding baby, it should be luke warm, not hot.

The big chill

Prepared foods, such as infant formula, should not be left at room temperature for more than one hour.

Homemade baby food or shop-bought baby food that has been opened can be kept in the fridge for two days. Ensure that the food is well covered and sealed. For baby's first foods where you only need a couple of teaspoons' worth, use BPA-free plastic ice cube trays to freeze blocks of food. Once the food is frozen, you can pop the cubes out into a plastic freezer bag, and date and label the food. Use any frozen baby food within a month. Once your baby is bigger, you can freeze food in 75ml to 125ml containers as they will be eating this amount from about eight months.

Reducing Everyday Exposure to Harmful Chemicals

* Peel fruits and vegetables, and remove the outer leaves of vegetables like lettuce and cabbage.

* Scrub under running water all fruits and vegetables that you choose not to peel. A produce wash product may also help.

* For foods that are more difficult to wash – like strawberries, grapes, broccoli, lettuce, and spinach – soak them briefly, then rinse them.

* Choose produce that's free of mould, bruising, and decay. These are likely to harbour more pesticides.

* Cut the animal fat. Some pesticides (and other environmental chemicals) are concentrated in the fat and skin of poultry, meat, and fish. Trim the fat off meat and take the skin off poultry.

* Buy organic foods, especially when buying higher-risk items like fruits, vegetables and foods that your baby eats a lot of.

* Look for locally grown produce. Fruits and vegetables that are grown far away require after-harvest pesticides and waxes to help them survive the long trip. And produce that has to travel is often picked before ripening, which reduces flavour as well as nutrients.

* Purchase produce in season. While it seems like a treat to buy juicy red strawberries or tomatoes in the dead of winter, food grown out of season usually comes from another hemisphere. Again, this produce will be picked earlier and will probably contain more pesticides.

* Serve a wide variety of foods, especially produce. A varied diet will limit repeated consumption of the same pesticide.

Useful contacts and products

Fill n Squeeze pouches

Babypotz Twitter: @Babypotz_com

If you want to splurge on some kitchen kit, these are two gadgets that tick the right boxes:

Philips Avent SCF879/21 Combined Baby Food Steamer and Blender, available on Amazon

Philips Avent SCF255/54 Electric Bottle and Food Warmer, available on Amazon

Irish Independent

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