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Fact Contaminants Packets

Do you know that powdered baby milks or formulas, even in sealed and unopened packets, are not sterile products?


In general, parents and caregivers know that they need to boil tap water and sterilise feeding bottles and teats when preparing baby milk to feed babies and young children. But few parents and caregivers know that powdered baby milks, even in unopened tins or packets, may contain harmful bacteria such as Salmonellaand Enterobacter species. These pathogenic bacteria thrive in warm milk, multiply rapidly and can result in serious illness such as meningitis, necrotising enterocolitis, septicemia and even death. This risk is greatest in areas of the world with hot climates, lacking refrigeration and adequate fuel to prepare the product safely.

IBFAN campaigns to protect the health and safety of all babies, whether they are breastfed or artificially

fed (1). All babies and young children are vulnerable to disease caused by harmful bacteria: at birth, a baby´s immune system is immature and still developing, and breastfeeding confers both active and passive immunity

to protect against infection. Artificially fed babies are thus more vulnerable, because artificial feeding provides none of the antibodies and anti-infective agents that are provided by breastmilk.

Outbreaks of illness caused by Enterobacter sakazakii, which has been found to be present in 14% of tins of powdered formula (2), have been documented in most industrialised countries, where sophisticated testing methods enable diagnosis of the primary cause of disease. These outbreaks have caused high mortality rates in vulnerable newborns (born prematurely, with low weight at birth or with compromised immune systems). However, the global prevalence of Enterobacter sakazakii infection from powdered formulae, especially in countries with large impoverished populations, is largely unknown and may be considerable. In such countries the mortality rate associated with formula feeding is estimated to be from 16 to 25 per cent (3).

The IBFAN working group aims to share this growing body of evidence that contamination of powdered baby milks by harmful bacteria can cause severe illness in newborn babies. Read more

(1) Artificial feeding includes bottle-feeding with industrial milks.

(2) Muytjens HL, Roelofs-Willemse H, Jaspar GH: Quality of powdered substitutes for breast milk with regard to members of the family Enterobacteriaceae. J Clin Microbiol 1988 26 (4): 743-6

(3) WHO Collaborative Team, Lancet 2000 and Victora et al. Lancet 1987