Labelling powdered infant formula as 'non-sterile'

The Agency has updated its website with details of a meeting held in January 2007 to discuss issues relating to the labelling of powdered infant formula milk as ‘non-sterile’.

The meeting was held in response to the recommendation from the World Health Assembly that an explicit warning should be given on packets of powdered infant formula milk stating that formula
can contain harmful bacteria.

Powdered infant formula milk is not sterile and there has been international concern about the risk to babies, who are particularly vulnerable to foodborne illness, if harmful bacteria such as
Enterobacter sakazakii are present in these products.

To ensure that any harmful bacteria are killed, formula should be prepared using water that is at least 70°C. Agency advice to parents is, ideally, to make up formula milk using freshly
boiled water that has been left to cool for no more than half an hour to reduce the risk of babies becoming ill.

This advice is in line with the recommendations provided by the European Food Safety Authority and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The meeting was attended by representatives from the WHO, the Department of Health (DH), the Infant and Dietetic Food Association (IDFA), consumer groups, food industry, healthcare
professionals and academics as well as other Governmental departments and non-governmental organisations. The presentations made at the meeting by the Agency, the WHO, the DH and the IDFA can
be read at the links below.

One of the main points to come from the meeting was the acknowledgement of the considerable effort that the infant formula industry has already made to tackle the issue of contamination of
powdered infant formula with harmful bacteria during the manufacturing process.

The Agency has been working to inform consumers that formula isn’t sterile. It is important that this message is made clear to parents and other people preparing infant formula milk both at
home and in care settings, including nurseries and child minders. The Agency wants to ensure that people understand the need to follow good hygiene and preparation practices to minimise the
risk. The importance of this was also the conclusion of research funded by the Agency to determine what parents and healthcare professionals understand by the term ‘non-sterile’. You can read
about this research from the link below and comments about non-sterile foods on Andrew Wadge’s blog.

The Agency is continuing to work with industry to develop an acceptable and appropriate form of words to appear on packs of formula explaining that powdered infant formula is not sterile.

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