Expired baby formula happens to the best of parents.
Maybe the can got shoved to the back of the cupboard or your baby didn’t eat as much this month as you expected.
Whatever the case, nearly all of us have pulled out a package of baby formula only to realize that it’s expired.
When that happens, it can be hard to know what to do.
On one hand, baby formula is so expensive, and you really don’t want to throw it in the trash.
But on the other hand, you’d never want to feed your child a product that could be bad for them.
In this post, we dive into what happens when baby formulas pass their expiration date and talk about what you can do with them.
There are 3 basic forms of baby formula, each one with a different make-up and use.
- Powder form
- Liquid concentrate form
- Ready-to-feed form
Depending on the type of formula you use, the shelf-life will be different.
The powder form is generally the least expensive and longest-lasting option.
The liquid concentrate and ready-to-feed forms usually last only 48 hours after being prepared or opened.
Check out this link from the American Academy of Pediatrics for more information about these forms of baby formula to help you choose which one is best for your baby and your lifestyle.
All baby formulas will come with a printed expiration date on the packaging.
It is important that you check this date before buying formula as vendors will sometimes sell expired or close to the date products that you may not be able to use before they lose quality and can no longer be used.
No form of baby formula is good for feeding to your baby after the expiration date.
Baby formula loses nutritional quality and becomes prone to bacterial growth after the expiration date.
Babies have delicate digestive systems and can easily become sick if their food is not at its best quality.
Read here to understand the risks of foodborne illnesses for babies and young children.
Check out this guide from the USDA to understand the expiration date regulations applied to baby formula (and other foods).
Unmixed powdered baby formula usually lasts about a year after it is produced by the manufacturer.
After the printed expiration date, the nutritional quality breaks down and the formula can begin to clump.
Powdered baby formula also carries the extra risk of causing a bacterial infection called Cronobacter, if used beyond its expiration date or if not stored properly.
Read here for the CDC’s advice for best-practice formula use to avoid Cronobacter infections.
Once you open a can of powdered baby formula, most varieties should be used within a month.
That being said, you should always read the label on the formula you’re using to be sure, as some kinds of powdered formula may be good for less time.
Also, if the expiration date passes before the month is over, you should not continue to use the formula, as the formula powder will begin to lose important nutrients.
Opened liquid formula, whether concentrate or ready to feed, generally must be used within 48 hours after opening, but also must be stored in the refrigerator during that time.
Once prepared for eating, all forms of baby formula should be used within 2 hours.
That means if you heat a bottle that your baby doesn’t eat or if they do not finish what you prepare, you must throw it out after two hours.
This is due to bacteria growth from the heat and from contact with the air and your baby’s mouth.
If you prefer to prepare your baby’s formula in advance, for example for overnight feedings, you should refrigerate the formula immediately and use it within 24 hours.
Be careful to prepare any formula that you are going to store with cold water to help prevent bacterial growth.
You should never reheat baby formula due to the presence and growth of bacteria in an already warmed bottle.
If your baby does not finish their formula within 2 hours after you have prepared it, it’s better to just throw away the leftovers.
Check this link for the FDA’s recommendations to avoid foodborne illnesses in your baby:
Unlike breast milk, baby formula is not considered appropriate for freezing.
When put in the freezer, powdered formulas will clump, and liquid formulas will separate.
This causes break-down of both the consistency and the nutritional quality of the formula.
Thankfully, due to the convenient and quick preparation that formula offers, you really never need to freeze it.
Suddenly realizing that you have multiple packages of expired baby formula can cause a serious case of guilt.
Not only do you feel like you are literally throwing money in the garbage—because let’s face it, baby formula isn’t cheap.
You also feel terrible knowing that you have unintentionally wasted valuable food that either your baby or another hungry child could have used.
While it is true that expired baby food can no longer be eaten by human babies, there are some other alternative uses for formula that has passed its expiration date.
Read on for suggestions about what you can do with those expired cans to make you feel a little better about the situation.
If you remember where you bought the expired formula, you may be able to exchange unopened packages for new ones that aren’t past their expiration date.
It’s always a good idea to contact your store and ask them about their expired baby formula policies to see if this is an option for you.
Even if your baby is no longer using formula or has switched to another brand, you could still exchange the expired formula to give the new packages to another baby you know or to the local food bank.
Agricultural studies performed by researchers at Penn State University have found that outdated baby formula can safely be given to calves if accompanied by a protein supplement.
If you aren’t a farmer yourself, you might consider reaching out to a local beef or dairy producer to offer them your stock of expired baby formula.
For more information about the research into giving expired formula to calves, check out this article from Penn State.
Baby formula contains several ingredients, among them calcium, that are essential for healthy plants.
In various web forums, users note that their plants grew more heartily after fertilizing them with expired baby formula.
While it most likely will not provide all the nutrients needed, your expired formula may be a good supplement to add to your garden.
Check with your local extension office or a horticulturalist (plant expert) to see if this could be an option for you.
A study by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that deer are repelled by hydrolyzed casein, a form of protein found in baby formula.
The study notes that certain specialty brands with a concentration of 17 percent or higher are the most effective, but that even other standard brands could be beneficial.
Check the research report about this unusual use of expired baby formula here.
Also, read here for expert gardener Walter Reeves’ recipe for deer repellent using baby formula.
Many animal shelters may be willing to accept your expired baby formula to feed as a nutritional supplement for sick animals.
These services usually have limited budgets that may prevent them from buying specialized vitamins or food supplements that could save a seriously ill animal’s life.
In those cases, your expired formula might be something they can include with other treatments to help strengthen an animal who might otherwise die.
Each shelter or rescue will have their own policies about what donations they can receive, but it never hurts to check to see if your expired formula is something they can use.
With all the things you have to think and worry about as a parent, it’s almost certain that at some point you may have a can (or several cans) of baby formula to expire before you can use it.
As frustrating as that is, the most important thing to remember is to not be tempted to feed the expired formula to your baby.
Rather than think too much about the waste, check to see if one of the alternative uses for expired formula listed above could be an option for you.
And, even if nothing works out and your only choice is to toss your expired formula, remember that it really is just spilled milk after all, a very minor cost that comes with the blessing of being a parent.