Heads up, Mom: These popular baby foods aren't as safe as you'd like
This article was updated on May 10 2016 to reflect new information.
Weaning can be a minefield. When is your little one ready to feed themselves? And what sort of finger foods should they get? What do they need to eat to get all the nutrients they need? Etc., etc.
Making it even more overwhelming is the sheer amount of choices in the baby food aisle, seeming to offer every possible combination of flavor, shape and texture. A good place to start is with the American Academy of Pediatricians' recommendations for first finger foods. Parents should start finger foods when their child is able to sit up without support and able to being their hands or other objects to their mouth. Additionally, first finger foods should be soft, easy to swallow and cut into small pieces.
A study called "Chew On This: Not All Products Labeled First Finger Foods Are Created Equal," led by Dr. Nicol Awadalla, a fellow in the department of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New York, took some of the "first finger food" products stacked up in the baby food aisle and evaluated them against the AAP recommendations.
A total of 41 adult "product testers" tested nine products, broken down into five categories: melts; cooked produce; puffed grain produce; biscuits; and cereal-like products. All products were made by Gerber except one: General Mills Cheerios.
Following instructions to dissolve each product (both fresh and "stale" versions) without using their teeth, each tester noted the number of seconds it took to break up each product and make it soft, and the number of seconds it took the product to dissolve completely or become "small enough that it must be swallowed."
Only two of the products tested met all AAP criteria — the cooked produce (Gerber Graduates Fruit Pickups: Diced Apples and Gerber Graduates Veggie Pickups: Diced Carrots.)
Many of the other products that didn’t meet the criteria failed on the "soft" element. Both puffed grain products (Gerber Graduates Vanilla Puffs and General Mills Cheerios) failed on all three criteria.
When it came to the time it took for the products to break up or become soft, the Gerber Vanilla Puffs took the longest (average of 14.8 seconds), followed by the biscuit product (Gerger Graduates Arrowroot Cookies, which took an average of 14.4 seconds) and the Gerber Graduates Fruit & Veggie Melts: Very Berry Blend, which took an average of 11.2 seconds. The cooked produce (Gerber diced apples and diced carrots) were quicker to break up or become soft (3.1 and 3.2 seconds, respectively.)
Other observations worth noting are that the fruit and veggie melts took an average of 35 seconds to dissolve in their fresh state, and in "leftover" state over one minute. Testers raised safety concerns about three products: the stale fruit and veggie melts that became "like a hard candy;" the Arrowroot Cookies that were "too big for one bite" and the Wagon Wheels that were also "too big for one bite" and "scratched the roof of the mouth."
What should parents take from this study? First of all, don’t panic! The products in the baby food aisle are safe for your baby. However, it’s important to understand that products marked as "first finger foods" may vary by size, texture and ease of swallowing. Also, some products may change consistency when left out of the original packaging.
Remind yourself of the AAP recommendations for finger foods when choosing products for your baby, and you can't go far wrong.
After publication, SheKnows received the following statement from Gerber:
"At Gerber, we place the health and well-being of babies above all else. We are aware of a recent study on finger foods out of the Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New York.
Parents carefully consider every bite that goes into baby's mouth and so does Gerber. Our entire team dedicates itself to ensuring all our foods meet our rigorous safety and quality standards.
Gerber products feature a helpful milestone symbol on packages that guides parents to the foods their child may be ready for based on developmental milestones rather than age. We use milestones such as “Crawler” and “Toddler” on products rather than age because research has shown that children develop feeding skills at different rates and over a range of time. Utilizing different textures, shapes and sizes we design our products to match the emerging physical and eating skills typical of babies at the various developmental stages. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also suggests offering a selection of flavors, sizes, shapes, colors and textures to babies in the period between 8 and 12 months.
Our finger foods including the Gerber® Graduates® Fruit Pick-Ups ™, Gerber® Graduates® Puffs, Gerber® Graduates® Yogurt Melts®, Gerber® Graduates® Fruit & Veggie Melts® Snack and Gerber® Graduates® Wagon Wheels®, fall within our “Crawler” milestone. Children in the crawler stage may be ready for these foods if they demonstrate certain physical signs and eating skills, such as crawling with the stomach of the floor and beginning to use the jaw to mash food.
Our team of internal and external experts evaluates and tests our foods so that mom and dad can be assured that baby is getting safe, wholesome and nutritional options. If parents have any questions, we encourage them to call us day or night, at our Parent Resource Center (1-800-4-Gerber) or visit Gerber.com."
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