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As parents throughout the U.S. try to find nutrition solutions amid the nation’s baby formula shortage, some seem to be wondering if it’s OK to serve expired baby formula.
The question has spiked nine times in the last year, according to online search data on Google Trends. Sunday, May 1, appears to be the last time Americans searched the term: “Can you use expired baby formula?”
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Health experts have addressed this question in the past before the baby formula shortage captured national attention. The short answer is no, parents shouldn’t feed expired formula to babies, even when there’s inadequate supply.
What risks are associated with expired baby formula?
“Do not feed your baby formula that has expired,” said Dr. Alexa Mieses Malchuk, a family physician at UNC Health – a not-for-profit medical system in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
“Formula is not crafted to last forever. Nutrients can degrade and bacteria can grow over time,” Malchuk continued. “This can be harmful to infants and children.”
In an email, Malchuk told Fox News Digital that parents should avoid using expired liquid and powdered formulas.
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“Expired formula lacks proper nutrients and puts children at risk for mold ingestion,” said Iza Correll, a pediatric health and wellness specialist who founded OVI Healthcare – a Kentucky-based nonprofit hospital that operates in Kenya.
Health agencies warn against expired formula
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration agree that parents should stay away from expired baby formula.
“Do not buy or use infant formula after its use-by date,” the USDA addressed in a FAQ webpage.
The agency noted that the FDA requires manufacturers to print use-by dates on formula containers, but printing on baby foods isn’t required.
“If the manufacturer has put a date on the baby food, however, use it before the date expires,” the USDA wrote.
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The FDA says use-by dates are meant to “inform retailers and consumers about the quality of the infant formula,” and are determined by each formula manufacturer’s internal testing and nutrition data.
“Until that declared date, the infant formula will contain no less than the amount of each nutrient declared on the product label and will otherwise be of acceptable quality,” the FDA wrote, citing guidelines from its Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Office of Nutritional Products, Labeling and Dietary Supplements.
How should baby formula be stored?
An Infant Formula Preparation and Storage guide published by the CDC notes that unopened baby formula containers should be stored indoors in a “cool” and “dry” setting. Vehicles, garages and outdoor settings are not advised.
When opened, the CDC says baby formula containers need to have a “tightly closed” lid and should be stored in a “cool, dry place,” but the containers shouldn’t be put in a refrigerator.
“Most infant formulas need to be used within 1 month of opening the container,” the CDC wrote. “When you first open the container, write the date on the lid to help you remember.”
The FDA, on the other hand, says baby formula purchasers should consult the label manufacturers put on each formula container to determine “handling before and after the container is opened.”
These labels are also required to state how prepared formulas should be prepared and disposed of, according to the FDA’s Infant Formula: Safety Do’s and Don’ts webpage.
Can you donate baby formula?
Some food banks and shelters accept baby formula donations, but government agencies like the USDA and CDC advise against accepting donations from unknown sources out of an abundance of caution.
The reason is improperly stored formulas could potentially cause more harm than good.
“Unused, returned infant formula may have been inappropriately stored (e.g., exposed to extremely high temperatures), may be past its use-by-date, or subjected to tampering (e.g., labels or use-by dates changed),” the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service wrote in a WIC Policy Memorandum. “Some of these conditions can cause products to lose nutrients, impact the product’s safety, and potentially threaten the health of recipients.”
These complex lists of risks are a big reason why the USDA FNS advises clinics that work with the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program to not donate “unused” or “returned” baby formulas to “food banks or food pantries.”
Instead, the USDA FNS says WIC clinics should dispose of these formulas “in accordance with state and local health and safety laws.”
Similarly, the CDC advises against baby formula, breast milk substitutes and breast pump donations during states of emergency.
“Relief organizations should only provide ready-to-use infant formula to infants who are already formula feeding or have had breastfeeding interrupted in certain situations,” the CDC wrote in its Disaster Planning: Infant and Child Feeding guideline.