Key Message: Once infected with foodborne pathogens, high-risk individuals such as infants and young children are more likely to develop severe symptoms and even life-threatening. Therefore, it is necessary to avoid eating high-risk foods. In addition, this article also mentions other foods that may affect the health of infants and young children.

The natural defences of infants and young children against foodborne pathogens are weaker. Because their immune systems are immature, and the gut microbiota may not be as protective as adults. The gastric juice acidity of a newborn baby is lower than that of an adult. Bacteria and other pathogens are more likely to survive in their bodies. Also, infants and young children consume more food in proportion to their weight than adults, therefore proportionately consuming more toxins or contaminants if present in food. Once infected with food-borne pathogens, infants and young children are more likely to develop severe symptoms which could be life-threatening. Infants and young children should avoid consuming high-risk foods.

Raw or undercooked foods

Raw or undercooked foods are high-risk foods, as there is no or inadequate heat treatment to eliminate the microorganisms present that can pose risks to human health. Infants and young children should avoid eating them. Click here to read about raw or undercooked foods.

Honey

Nitrate and Nitrite in Food and Infant Feeding

Nitrate occurs naturally in the environment and plants. Nitrate itself is relatively non-toxic, but it can be converted to nitrite in the infant's body that can cause infant methaemoglobinaemia, otherwise known as "Blue Baby Syndrome". It is a condition where a baby's skin turns blue while there is not enough oxygen in the blood. Infants and people with glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency are more susceptible to the above condition. To prevent "Blue Baby Syndrome":

Choose
  • Use fresh and undamaged leafy vegetables.
Clean
  • Wash leafy vegetables under running water.
  • Use clean utensils to prevent bacterial contamination.
Cook
  • Cook leafy vegetables in boiling water for 1 to 3 minutes to soften the vegetables for pureeing and kills bacteria.
Separate
  • Feed immediately and throw away any leftovers as saliva contaminates the food with bacteria.
Safe temperature
  • If not used immediately, cool the vegetable puree as quickly as possible and store it within one hour after cooking: (1) in a refrigerator and use within one day; or (2) in a freezer and use within one week.

  • Reheat refrigerated/frozen puree until piping hot before use. Do not reheat more than once.

Fish

Avoid giving young children shark, swordfish or marlin as well as their products, such as fish ball. The amount of mercury in these fish can affect the development of young chilren's nervous system.

Click here for Q&As concerning methylmercury in fish.

Formulated Infant Formula

Although breast milk is the best food for babies, when breast milk is not available in time, caregivers may consider infant formula as an alternative. However, infant formula is not a sterile product. If infant formaula is not handled properly, it can be contaminated with pathogenic bacteria, which can lead to serious illnesses in infants. Therefore, caregivers should:

Choking Risk

Young children have weak chewing or swallowing abilities and are prone to choking after eating certain foods:

To reduce the risk of food-related choking, when preparing meals for young children, caregivers are advised to:

Foods worthy of Attention

Lychee  Lychees naturally contain two chemicals, hypoglycine A and methylene cyclopropylglycine, which inhibit the body's production of glucose, and the content of unripe lychees is higher. Compared with adults, children have less glycogen reserves, and skipping meals is more likely to lead to hypoglycemia. If children eat a lot of lychees on an empty stomach, the chemicals in lychees may cause blood sugar to plummet, resulting in convulsions, coma, and even death. Remember not to eat lychees on an empty stomach, and control the amount of lychees each time you eat. Children should not eat more than 5 lychees at a time.
Ginkgo Ginkgo is toxic because it contains toxins such as 4'-methoxypyridoxine and cyanogenic glycosides.  4'-methoxypyridoxine is a food poisoning chemical. Although cooking cannot destroy 4'-methoxypyridoxine, it can remove the toxicity of heat-labile toxins such as cyanogenic glycosides, thereby reducing the toxicity of ginkgo. Only consume a few ginkgo per day, and children should pay extra attention.
Caffeinated drinks Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that exists naturally in plants such as coffee beans, tea leaves, cocoa beans, and kola nut. Many foods and drinks are fortified with caffeine for its bitter taste and refreshing effect. Tolerance to caffeine in different individuals is different. Excessive intake of caffeine can cause anxiety, rapid heartbeat, tremors, sleep disturbance, upset stomach, etc. In children, excessive intake may temporarily affect behaviour. Children should avoid beverages high in caffeine such as coffee and milk tea, and should maintain a balanced and varied diet.

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