Incorrectly stored breast milk compels U.K. hospital procedure review
Friday, Aug 23rd 2013

The Healthcare Environment Inspectorate (HEI) found safety concerns at Wishaw General Hospital after determining that breast milk was being stored incorrectly. The U.K. hospital is currently reviewing its processes to ensure that the milk, used to feed sick and premature babies, will be kept at the correct temperature in its freezers.

Constant temperature monitoring is essential for breast milk storage, and while the hospital staff had been keeping daily logs, the freezer was warmer than the recommended temperature. The freezer had been fluctuating between minus 13 to minus 15 degrees Celsius, when the general advice is to keep the milk between minus 18 and minus 20 C, according to STV News. The staff had not known the appropriate environment for breast milk storage prior to the investigation, however the matters exposed by the Inspectorate have become a top priority for the hospital's improvements. The Inspectorate ensured that the breast milk storage practices had been rectified including improved temperature monitoring. The staff also consulted a specialist on storage conditions and installed an extra thermometer to guarantee accuracy.

"We found that, overall, NHS Lanarkshire is working towards complying with standards to protect patients, staff and visitors from the risk of acquiring an infection," HEI chief inspector Susan Brimelow said.

Observe proper storage techniques
Infants are especially prone to illness, making it crucial to follow recommended breast milk storage guidelines. Temperature sensors can ensure that the milk remains available for use while in a cooler, refrigerator or freezer. The oldest milk should be used first to circulate the supply. Fresh milk can be kept at room temperature up to six hours, which is convenient for immediate use, according to Mayo Clinic. However, refrigerators can store the milk for five to eight days, and freezers can extend the time to three to six months.

"Never thaw frozen breast milk at room temperature, which enables bacteria to multiply in the milk," according to Mayo Clinic. "Also, don't heat a frozen bottle in the microwave or very quickly on the stove. Some parts of the milk might be too hot, and others too cold. Some research suggests that rapid heating can affect the milk's antibodies as well."

Besides temperature monitoring, there are a few other ways to safely store breast milk. Labeling each container with the date will help ensure that the oldest milk is used first. Fresh milk should also not be mixed with milk that's already frozen, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just as with hospital freezers, at home, the milk should also be kept at minus 18 C, and be stored at the back where the temperature is most constant. It's generally discouraged to keep the milk longer than the recommended times due to potential degradation of the product.

Properly storing and preparing frozen breast milk can positively affect a child's health, making it necessary to have controls in place to verify the conditions are being met. Temperature monitoring can help hospitals ensure that their neonatal facilities are providing the best care to families and giving their children quality products during their stay.