No parent in their right mind would ever want to feed their child expired food.
Unfortunately, the FDA does NOT require manufacturers to label their food with an expiration date.
You have to take the necessary precautions as if YOU were ingesting the food yourself.
If you want to avoid accidentally feeding this to your little one, this article will tell you everything you need to know about the expiration of baby food.
Does Baby Food Have an Expiration Date?
NO! Remember that the FDA/USDA does not require companies to include an expiration date on most food products.
The ONLY exception is baby formula because, after a certain amount of time, the nutrients in the formula begin to deteriorate.
Naturally, if children rely solely on baby formula for their nourishment, any deterioration can be catastrophic to your little one.
Baby food does not usually state an expiration date.
As an alternative, many food companies choose to include a “best by”, “use by”, or “sell by” date, and they’re not all the same thing.
Where to Find These Dates
More often than not, moms will see them in obvious places like:
- Top of the jar lid
- On the product label itself
- Underneath the lid or cover
- Side of the lid
For food pouches, you’ll likely find them ANYWHERE on the pouch. However, some pouches have the expiration date underneath the bar code, making it difficult to spot.
Difference Between These Dates
We know how confusing it can be, and some of you might think they’re the same thing, but they’re not.
So let’s take a look at what each of these “expiration dates” means, so you’ll know when to clear your shelf.
NOTE: Most baby foods are safe to consume past their “expiration date.”
Sell By Date
Meaning of Sell-By Date: Stores should sell the food before this date.
Who’s in charge of selling their stock: You or the grocery store you frequent? It’s the latter, of course!
The sell-by date is a GUIDE for the seller. It gives them some idea of the following:
- How much to stock on their shelves
- When to rotate their inventory
- When to take away most foods that have or are about to go bad
A sell-by date tells the store that their products are less likely to spoil if it’s sold on or before this date.
Theoretically, retailers should pull anything NOT SOLD by the sell-by date from their shelves for the food safety of their customers.
Use By Date
Meaning of Use-By Date: Consume beforehand for the best QUALITY.
The use-by date is the closest thing you can find to an expiration date on a lot of food products.
By putting this, the manufacturer tells you to consume their food before this expiration date to experience the food at its best quality.
If your baby consumes the food past its use-by date, it’s still SAFE.
IMPORTANT NOTE: For baby formula, its nutrients deteriorate past the use-by date.
Best By Date
Meaning of Best-By Date: Consume beforehand for the best TASTE.
Also seen as the “best before” date, this is the manufacturer’s way of telling you when you can expect their product to taste its best.
While it’s not a strict expiration date, the consumption of food past this “expiration date” may give your baby a less tasty meal.
Let’s take stale cereal, for example. They may be less crunchy and taste kind of like the carton they came in, but they won’t leave you running to the bathroom.
If your biggest concern is the taste, texture, and physical quality of the food, then this date is something to keep in mind!
When Is “Expired” Food Safe for Baby to Eat?
Okay, so as you’ve seen, you won’t have a problem with consuming a product past its “expiration date.”
So if you don’t want to waste a lot of baby food that’s only a week or two over their sell-by date or use-by date (but don’t want to compromise on food safety), what do you do?
Here are some GENERAL RULES for storage dates for baby food:
- Baby food in jars: 2 years if unopened; 1-3 days if opened AND refrigerated
- Baby food in pouches: 1 year when unopened; 1 day once opened AND refrigerated
- Baby cereal: 3 years unopened; 30 days once opened
Here’s a guide to how long the different TYPES of food will last once they’re OPENED:
- Fruits and vegetables: 2 to 3 days in the fridge or 6-8 months frozen
- Meats and eggs: 1 day in the fridge or 1-2 months frozen
- Meats and vegetables: 1-2 days in the fridge or 1-2 months frozen
- Homemade baby food: 1-2 days in the fridge or 3-4 months frozen
So if you’re just a few days or weeks past the best by or “expiration date,” there’s no need to panic!
A few more things to remember:
- If you suspect your jars are compromised (i.e., the seal’s been broken) or the food has gone bad in any way, err on the side of caution of food safety. It’s best to throw it to keep your little one safe.
- For opened baby food that’s NOT refrigerated, it’s best to throw it away after 2 hours.
Should Your Little One Eat Expired Food?
Again, food manufacturers make these just recommendations to ensure your baby enjoys their food as much as possible.
So while babies CAN eat food that’s past their use by or sell-by date (technically speaking), it’s not good to always feed your baby expired food and expired formula.
With infant formula, the good stuff in these foods can degrade over time, albeit at a MUCH SLOWER pace than with milk.
Babies grow and mature in a flash at this stage of their life. To do this healthily, they need as much nutrition as they can get.
Since a diet of baby food supplemented by infant formula is their only source of these nutrients, it’s critical that what they eat has the highest level and quality of vitamins and minerals.
So if and when you can, always feed your little one only the freshest food and ingredients.
MOMMY TIP: We highly recommend trying out goat milk formula for your baby if they have issues with regular dairy formula.
When to Toss Food Past Their “Expiration Date”
We know it hurts to think of the product and money you’re wasting every time you throw food away. But instead of looking at it from the consumer’s perspective, consider it from a parent’s point of view.
When it comes to your baby’s health, you should NEVER take the risk of getting them sick with foods past their expiration date. At their life stage, their tummies are susceptible to getting upset.
So here are a few general rules to help you decide when to throw those jars or that baby cereal away:
- Always check the use-by or sell-by date on the packaging. If you’re more than a few months past that, throw it away.
- Always ensure that the jars or pouches are secure. Check the seals or tabs and toss them if they’ve been broken.
- Look for warning signs that the food’s gone bad (change in color or smell, separation, mold, etc.) and toss them.
- Smell the food before feeding it to your baby. If it smells funny (e.g., smells fermented or sour), throw it away.
- Check for any swelling or bubbling in the can, jar, or pouch. This is a sign that air got in and bad gasses have built up inside. Throw it!
How to Store Opened Baby Food Properly
Okay, so you’ve checked the expiration date and thrown away anything that could get your baby sick.
What would you do if your child acts up and refuses to finish excellent baby food?
You can use it again later without compromising your little one’s health. Here’s how:
- Storing – Refrigerate or freeze any UNUSED portions IMMEDIATELY upon opening the baby food
- Sealing – Cover any opened jars or containers OR place them in a SEALED container.
- Dating – Put a DATE on the food container so that you’ll know how long it’s been in your fridge and when to throw that product away.
As a reminder, only save UNTOUCHED baby food. In other words, if a used spoon or your child’s finger has touched that portion of the baby food, don’t do anything else. Just toss it in the trash.
The same tip goes for formula, even if it’s only partially consumed. Milk spoils faster than any other baby food.
Many people may feel that a 4/5 full bottle would be a waste to throw away, but you STILL DON’T WANT to take the risk of feeding your baby milk past its expiration date.
How to Avoid Dealing with Baby Food Past Its Expiration Date
There are some practical food safety tips and tricks that you can keep in mind for lessening the need to deal with food past their use-by or sell-by date.
It just requires you to be more vigilant and to plan ahead of time.
1. Plan Ahead
Remember that most babies outgrow eating baby food in 6 months.
This is why you need to stop yourself from buying too many foods and filling your pantry with boxes of baby food you likely won’t use in a few months.
Let’s say you’ve decided that you’ll only stock up on baby food once a month.
Estimate how many jars of baby food or boxes of baby cereal your little one can finish in a month, and only buy enough for that.
E.g., For Gerber lovers and babies with sensitive stomachs, decide between Gerber Soothe and Gerber Gentle BEFORE you buy them in bulk to avoid expiration.
DON’T go overboard if you don’t plan on eating that yourself.
Please resist the urge to try out most of their flavors, and portion it out. Instead, only buy foods you ACTUALLY need.
Buying more than what you need will just lead to other foods sitting in your storage past their expiration date!
2. Portion the Baby Food
Now that you’ve bought your stock for the week or the month, it’s time to open one.
But when you’re exhausted from being kept up at night or from cleaning all day, it’s easy to be lazy and to feed your baby straight out of the container of baby food.
Some will just get a spoon and directly scoop out the food from that batch of baby cereal or jar of puree and put this directly in the mouth of their infants.
RESIST THIS TEMPTATION!
This is the easiest method of speeding up your food’s expiration, especially if it contains milk or eggs.
Remember what we said about only being able to save UNUSED food. This applies to ALL TYPES of baby food (yes, even baby maple syrup).
So when it comes to these things, it’s best practice to scoop out a portion with a clean utensil onto your baby’s bowl or plate, then feed your children from that.
In case your children are extra hungry, you can always scoop out more (again, with a CLEAN utensil).
3. Keep Them in Containers
As we’ve briefly mentioned before, proper storage is important to ensure the quality of your baby’s food. This will help assuage any qualms you may have with spoilage.
So you must keep UNUSED portions of the baby food in containers that have a secure lid or cover.
Don’t just keep them sitting exposed in your pantry or shelf. You need to refrigerate them as soon as they’re opened.
ALWAYS keep them out of reach of your children (so they don’t spoil them with their dirty fingers).
Also, keep in mind that heat encourages harmful bacteria to grow, which is why a cold refrigerator or freezer is the best place for unused leftovers.
4. Label All Baby Food Containers
When you’re a baby’s parent, it’s easy to forget these things and mix up all these dates.
To help keep this from happening, always mark each container of baby food you intend to place in your refrigerator or freezer.
Mark it with 2 dates:
- When you opened it
- When it has to be eaten or thrown away (expiration date)
You can use stickers specifically made to label food expiration dates or dry erase markers for this.
5. Use the Blender
It’s always best to go NATURAL when you can. So if you can, try making homemade baby food!
This is healthier, more versatile, and more affordable.
It also lets you introduce more and more ingredients into your baby’s diet.
However, you should keep in mind that there are some foods that will cause diaper rashes, so be careful!
Expiration dates are NO JOKE when it comes to feeding our children. No one wants to give their children food poisoning or diarrhea, whether intentionally or accidentally.
Our guide should give a good idea of what you can do to prevent feeding your kids food past its shelf life.
We hope all the information we’ve given you in this guide helps some of the new parents out there figure out how to deal with expiration dates on baby food.
Children grow up so quickly, and we’re here to help ensure that they end up perfectly fine!
FINAL TIP: If you’re looking to complete your baby feeding gear, you can take a look at our complete list of natural baby feeding products for some ideas.
July 22, 2021 – updated article links