Canning homemade baby food

I read through most of the q&a's on baby food and have additional questions. I have been considering making homemade baby food for my girlfriends who have babies. Most of my girlfriends are not educated on organic foods and feed themselves and their children artificial colors, flavors, pesticides, etc.

I am worried about the process, however. My concerns are with maintaining the nutrition while eliminating bacteria. I live in an area that has a number of you-pick organic farms. I thought a good alternative would be to pick the produce, heat it to soften, puree, fill in jars and process (can) according to the produce used. Now it seems the temperatures have to be 180 degrees or more for canning. Will this process kill all of the nutrients as well as the bacteria? Do I have to process the jars under heat after I fill them? How long will they last if I do process vs. not processing? And is freezing a good alternative for storage instead of in jars?

I know the best alternative is to pick the organic vegetables and then serve as soon as possible to save as many nutrients and enzymes as possible.

Any suggestions from you or suggestions to books would be greatly appreciated.

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Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

What a marvelous idea for a gift...homemade baby food! What parent wouldn't love to have such a timesaving gift? I think you should go ahead with your idea, but with a HUGE word of caution. Home canning anything but high acid foods (e.g. applesauce, tomatoes) is highly discouraged. In fact I believe that many university extension services won't even give out instructions on how to home can anymore like they used to...it is just too dangerous a proposition. In fact, some even discourage canning tomatoes because new varieties are lower in acid and so may not have the preservative effect needed for safe canning.

The danger in canning vegetables is the risk of botulism. Botulism poisoning is produced by the Botulinum spore which is found in common garden soil. The spore is not dangerous itself, but if allowed to grow under the proper conditions it can produce a deadly toxin. The spore can withstand high temperatures for long periods of time. Therefore a spore could survive your canning process.

Botulism grows in a low-acid environment where no air is permitted...your canned green beans would provide the ideal environment for it. Under those conditions, the spore will grow, and in the process produce the toxin. If that toxin is ingested, it can cause botulism, which is often fatal. Home canned vegetables have been the main source of botulism.

The food industry takes major precautions to be sure the spores are killed during the canning process. They use high pressure canners under intense heat and monitor the penetration of that heat into the canned goods. Then the canned goods are held for a period of time to make sure no spores have grown before releasing the food to the market.

The home canning that does work best is canning with high acid fruits like peaches and apples because the spore cannot grow under acid conditions. As you eluded to, canning at such high temperatures does cause nutrient and flavor destruction. It is the price that is paid for a safe canned food. Freezing fresh fruits and vegetables is a far superior method of preserving from a nutritional point of view as well as from a flavor and texture standpoint. It is also a safer method since it is not an anaerobic environment, and the cold inhibits bacterial growth.

Taking all this into consideration, I suggest you pursue your idea, using the freezer method of preserving. There are several excellent baby food cookbooks on the market. Study those books, freezing the foods/recipes that you think would do well under those conditions. A couple of books that I recommend are "Into the Mouths of Babes: A Natural Foods Nutrition and Feeding Guide for Infants and Toddlers", by Susan Tate Firkaly, and "Small Helpings: A Complete Guide to Feeding Babies, Toddlers and Young Children", by Annabel Karmel.

I know that many parents cook baby food in batches, freezing the extra in ice cube trays for future use. Some foods just don't freeze well like melon and avocados, but most freeze with great results. After you have frozen the food in the ice-cube trays, you can pop out the blocks of food and store in labeled zip lock freezer bags. The little snack size bags would be great for individual cubes, the larger bags for several similar cubes of food. Put an expiration date on the bag as well, so the baby is sure to eat the most nutritious food possible.

Meat and fish can be frozen and stored up to ten weeks, and fruits and vegetables up to 6 months. Legumes and eggs based products can freeze for up to 8 or 9 months. Products with milk, like purees mixed with dairy, can freeze for 4 to 6 weeks.

Of course, babies grow so fast anyway, they will eat the food up long before it has time to expire.

Enjoy your culinary adventure into making baby food. I predict yours will be the best gift they receive! Maybe you can even tuck a copy of the cookbook in with the food so when dad and mom see how much their baby loves the food, they can go ahead and pick up where you left off.

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