Urgent warning to parents of babies amid serious risk of illness

A baby with a bottle
-Credit: (Image: Getty)

Dangerous food poisoning bacteria E.Coli has been found in more than half of bottles used to feed babies milk in a new study - alongside klebsiella, enterobacter, citrobacter, staphylococcus aureus, bacillus cereus, shigella, and salmonella. Food poisoning can be deeply unpleasant for most people and for babies it can prove fatal.

Tjhe findings come from new research by Dr Pamela Mason published by the Journal of Community Medicine & Public Health, which detected E.Coli in 56.3% of baby bottles.

Dr Mason said: “It’s extremely easy for feeding equipment to become contaminated with microbes, as milk deposits provide the perfect breeding ground. This can pose a serious risk to infant health, so it’s crucial that we ensure that bottles, bottle caps and rings, dummies, and even breast pumps, are properly sterilised.”

GP and a co-author Dr Gill Jenkins said: “We found that the best way of proper sterilisation of baby equipment is to use the cold-water method with a chlorine-containing product like Milton Sterilising Tablets or Milton Sterilising Solution, which have been tried and tested and proven safe and effective for generations.”

Other methods may do the job reasonably well. However, they tend to have several disadvantages. For example:

  • Boiling may cause scalding, and causes faster decay of teats

  • Steam requires rinsing afterwards, bulky equipment, and potentially release microplastics into milk

  • UV’s effectiveness depends on where the light shines and can take up to an hour to achieve sterilisation

In the case of formula feed, current manufacturing processes do not allow for the production of a sterile product, so can result in contamination with Enterobacter sakazakii and Salmonella enterica. If carers of infants are then using poor sterilisation practices to prepare feeds, this can make the issue much worse.

Dr Mason said: "Parents and carers of babies can significantly reduce the risk of infection by preparing formula safely, handling it correctly and using appropriately sterilised equipment.”

“People may think that cleaning and sterilising are the same,” says co-author and pharmacist, Mark Burdon. Mark Burdon adds: “However, they are actually two distinct but overlapping processes, both of which are important for infant safety.”

Sterilising involves eliminating almost all microorganisms from a surface.

Dr Pamela Mason, Dr Gill Jenkins and Mark Burdon recommend the following steps for safe cleaning and sterilising:

  1. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before cleaning and sterilising feeding equipment.

  2. Wash feeding and preparation equipment in hot, soapy water using the Milton Baby Bottle Cleaner. Use a brush to scrub the inside and outside of all bottles and teats. The Milton Baby Bottle Cleaner has been specifically developed to remove all milk residue, white film and ensures safe baby bottle and teat cleaning. It’s also ideal for all baby and family items as well as being 100% biodegradable and recyclable. Rinse equipment in clean water.

  3. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on your chosen sterilising product.

  4. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before handling sterilised bottles and equipment.

  5. Only remove feeding and related equipment from the sterilising solution just before use. If not used immediately, cover and store in a clean environment.

The NHS recommends sterilising feeding equipment for infants aged 12 months and younger. Dr Pamela Mason said: “With our research review finding that over half of baby bottles harbour e-coli among a wide range of other potentially harmful microbes, it’s important for the safety and survival of babies that we know how to sterilise their feeding equipment appropriately. The safest, most convenient, and most cost-effective way to do this, according to our findings, is to use the cold-water method of sterilisation."