Safely donating baby food, formula and breast milk

Follow these guidelines for safely donating baby food, formula and breast milk to ensure the safety and nourishment of infants.

Someone holding a box of donated goods.
Photo: Pexels/Julia Cameron.

Baby food and formula donations to pantries are essential for families in need. The safety of these products is vital to providing infants with nutritious and high-quality food. These contributions can ensure that families with infants have access to safe and wholesome baby food and formula. If an abundance of these products is available for donation, consider donating to reputable organizations such as food banks and pantries, hospitals, churches and accredited milk banks for breast milk. Some pantries, known as baby food pantries or baby banks, are like pantries but specifically receive and donate baby related items.

Michigan State University Extension recommends the following donation guidelines to help parents and caregivers to provide the best possible start in life for little ones.

Baby Food and Formula

  • Check expiration dates. Do not donate formula past its "use-by" date. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), infant formula is required to have a "use-by" date, which is regulated by the FDA. Feeding infants and babies by this date ensures proper nutrition. Once the date passes the safety, quality, and nutrition can no longer be guaranteed.
  • Inspect packaging. Only donate infant formula and baby food that has been protected from water damage and pest damage. Do not donate cans or pouches that are bulging or have split seams. Cans with dents or rust should be avoided. These are signs of potential contamination that can lead to a foodborne illness. Pathogenic and spoilage microorganisms include molds, yeasts and bacteria. Pathogens cannot be seen, smelled or tasted.
  • Check recalls. Do not donate any infant formula or baby food that has been recalled by the manufacturer. Recalled products can be unsafe due to possible contamination, food allergen mislabeling or other reasons.
  • Storage. If improperly handled, infant formula and baby food can be a health hazard. Only donate infant formula and baby food that has been stored in a cool and dry area. Avoid areas that have extreme temperature changes. If exposed to temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit – for example, infant formula that was left in a vehicle on a hot summer day – the quality and safety of the food has been negatively impacted.
  • What to avoid. Do not donate homemade baby food, homemade formula or used baby feeding items. These items pose safety concerns and other legal and regulatory issues. Donated homemade baby food poses an increased risk of contamination that could lead to a foodborne illness and serious health problems for infants and young children.

Breast milk

  • Situations arise where donated breast milk can be used by parents who are unable to provide breast milk for their infants. Breast milk donations to a milk bank may be the lifesaving nourishment that premature or ill infants need. Accredited milk banks can be found through the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.

By following these guidelines, the risk of foodborne illness decreases for infants. Some food banks and pantries will accept non-food items such as diapers, wipes, laundry detergent and others. Check with your local pantry if these items are acceptable. For more information on food safety for babies, visit MSU Extension's Safe Food = Healthy Babies website for resources and articles.

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