I love buying baby food more than just about anything. The bright colors, the velvety purées, and the seemingly endless choices can keep me happily browsing Babies 'R Us until my shopping partner needs a diaper change. I know my baby loves baby food, because she literally bathes in it, but I don't know how much she actually eats compared to how much ends up everywhere else. Her stomach is also really small, so we rarely use a whole tub — or pouch, or jar — in one meal. But how long does baby food really last after opening it? Is it something you can save?
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), you can store opened fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator for two to three days, but should toss meat and egg products after one. Veggie and meat combos last one to two days when properly refrigerated (check the instructions on the packaging), and homemade fruits and veggies expire in 48 hours. If you make homemade poultry, meat, or eggs for your baby, be sure to heat to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit — use a cooking thermometer to check — and toss foods containing these products after 24 hours.
Keep in mind that storage recommendations differ depending on the packaging you choose. Those handy pouches? According to Gerber, you should toss baby food pouches after 24 hours, no matter what they contain. Of course, opened baby food should never be stored in the refrigerator if your baby has had any contact with it. While it's tempting to spoon straight from the tub, the best way to save food is to spoon onto a plate or bowl and let your baby take it from there. No double dipping.
Remember, you can always check this stuff with your pediatrician, because they're invested in the health of your baby, and foodborne illness presents serious risks. Many baby food manufacturers, like Gerber, offer 24-hour helplines, so if in doubt, give them a call.
You should also be sure you don't leave baby food out too long, because bacteria breeds quickly when those purées aren't properly refrigerated. Care.com noted that baby food is especially likely to spoil because they don't include the preservatives that many adult packaged food contains. Never leave opened baby food out longer than two hours, and if you're taking a picnic this summer, toss opened baby food after one hour if temperatures reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, Care.com suggested.
Additionally, don't save leftovers from your baby's plate or bowl. Anything that's come into contact with her mouth, spoon, or hands might harbor harmful bacteria. The FDA noted that proper hand washing is your first defense against illness, so read their guide on how to wash your hands before feeding your baby, or preparing homemade food. If you can't remember how long that tub of baby food has been sitting in the fridge — I know my memory is shot — err on the side of caution, and throw it out. Otherwise, meats are on a 24-hour clock, and fruits and vegetables stay safe for two days.