A study carried out by Swansea University found 84 percent of parents who used infant formula preparation machines to make baby formula reported water temperatures were not hot enough to kill harmful bacteria.
This was compared to parents who used a boiled kettle to prepare the formula – just 22 percent reported temperatures not hot enough.
According to the research, formula-fed babies have a higher risk of gastrointestinal infections compared to breastfed babies.
This can be caused by bacterial contamination from powdered infant formula, the equipment used for feeding and also preparing formula with unclean hands.
Formula should be added to boiling hot water of at least 70C then cooled to destroy bacteria, according to the NHS.
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The Foods Standards Agency and the Office for Product Safety and Standards are working together to determine whether any further action is required as a result of the study.
Dr Aimee Grant, Senior Lecturer in Public Health, who led the study said: “I was concerned to find that of the 74 infant formula preparation machines tested by parents, 85 percent appeared to fail to reach a temperature of at least 70C, which the NHS say is needed to kill all bacteria that can live in powdered infant formula.
“If any parents are worried, I’d advise them to buy a food thermometer and test the temperature of just the hot water that comes out of their machine (but not to use this tested water in a feed, due to potential contamination); if it’s below 70 degrees, do not use the machine to prepare infant formula and contact the machine manufacturer.”
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Jonie Cooper, a parent who took part in the study, said: “When I first tested my prep machine, using the setting for a 4-ounce bottle of formula, I got a temperature of 52C.
“When I saw this I was shocked because I trusted the machine to follow the NHS guidelines on the temperature of the water, because it was specifically designed for babies.
“I advise parents using a prep machine to check the temperature of the water.”
The study recommended stronger consumer protections on the marketing of infant formula preparation devices.
The NHS offers guidance on how to prepare formula and avoid risks from contamination.
The study also recommended public health messages on preparing baby formula safely be shared in the course of antenatal and postnatal infant feeding support, following UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative guidance.
Also, that bacterial gastrointestinal infections in infants, particularly those resulting in hospitalisation, should be mapped to batches of infant formula and associated preparation equipment to provide information that could inform measures to improve the safety of formula feeding practices for babies in the UK.
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