Foodborne diseases are a global public health issue and pose threats to human health. Consumption of food contaminated with microorganisms or chemicals may cause foodborne diseases. As infants have weak immune system and their organs have not well-developed yet, they are less capable of defending themselves against foodborne diseases. Therefore, ensuring the safety of powdered infant formula is especially important.
Is powdered infant formula sterile?
‘Powdered infant formula’ refers to the category of powdered breastmilk substitutes which are specifically formulated to meet the nutritional requirements of infants during the first few months from birth to the introduction of appropriate complementary food. However, infant formula is not a sterile product because the process of mixing ingredients is not carried out under sterile conditions. Contemporary technology is still unable to produce sterilized powdered infant formula. If the ingredients or additives contain pathogenic microorganisms, the finished infant formula products will be contaminated. Moreover, heat-sensitive ingredients may be added to infant formula so there is no further microorganism reduction process after the mixing of various ingredients. Therefore, manufacturers control the environmental hygiene of factories and the microorganisms’ growth in equipment to ensure the safety of food products.
Why is it necessary to establish the limits of pathogenic microorganisms in infant formula?
‘Pathogenic microorganisms’ refers to microorganisms causing food poisoning, including those that release toxins into food or lead to intestinal infections. Enterobacter Sakazakii (Cronobacter species) and Salmonella mentioned in the regulation are naturally found in the environment. Both can survive in dry condition for a long time. They pose a high health risk to people with weak immune system, such as newborn babies under 28 days old, premature babies, underweight babies, immunodeficiency infants and young children. It makes the patients suffer from complications and meningitis in severe cases, but the incidence rate is low. Based on multiple outbreaks of foodborne diseases associated with powdered infant formula in the past, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations/World Health Organization (WHO) jointly convened expert meetings on specific microorganisms in powdered infant formula. They have concluded that powdered infant formula contaminated with Enterobacter Sakazakii (Cronobacter species) or Salmonella is a vehicle and source of foodborne illnesses in infants; so, it is necessary to establish the limits of pathogenic microorganisms in powdered infant formula.
Regulation about the limits of pathogenic microorganisms in powdered infant formula in Macao
The Administrative Regulation No. 16/2015 in Macao ‘Limits of Pathogenic Microorganisms in Infant Formula’ has been promulgated in October 2015. This standard explicitly regulates the pathogenic microorganisms in powdered infant formula and stipulates that Enterobacter Sakazakii (Cronobacter species) and Salmonella must not be detected, which complies with international standards. When powdered infant formula is imported to Macao, the importers are required to submit an import application to the competent authority; also, the products must pass the mandatory inspection in advance to selling into market. In an aspect of market surveillance, powdered infant formula has been constantly comprised in Targeted Food Surveillance for testing its pathogenic microorganisms, chemicals and nutritional components so as to safeguard the health of infants and young children.
How should parents prepare powdered infant formula?
In accordance with the advices from the FAO and WHO, powdered infant formula should be properly prepared with boiled water, which must be at least 70°C so as to reduce the hazards of pathogens effectively, including Salmonella. The prepared infant formula should be cooled to feeding temperature and consumed immediately. Discard any feed that is not consumed within two hours after preparation because it is unsuitable for feeding infants.