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What are baby grade ingredients?

When it comes to making our delicious and nutritious food for babies and toddlers, we only use the best baby grade ingredients in our recipes. But what does ‘baby grade’ actually mean?

Baby grade ingredients are different from the fresh ingredients you can buy at the supermarket – including organic produce. For an apple, carrot or piece of beef to be baby grade, they must be produced at one of our carefully chosen farms, under extremely strict guidelines, that ensure pesticides, pollution and nitrates are kept to a bare minimum.

On the farm

The baby grade journey starts with the farmers we work with. We work closely with specialist farmers, who are dedicated to producing ingredients to baby grade standard. It takes at least 18 months to train to become a baby food farmer, after which a long-term relationship between us begins.

In order for their farms and orchards to make the grade:
  • They have to be far from main roads and heavy industry to minimise nasties from pollution.
  • The weather has to be suitable and reliable, so that fewer chemical treatments are needed.
  • The soil has to be low in levels of naturally occurring heavy metals, nitrates or other contaminants

Minimising pesky pesticides

Baby grade isn’t the same as organic. Baby grade produce is grown specifically for babies, which means it has to meet even stricter standards than organic food. The use of pesticides is kept to a bare minimum. In fact the maximum amount of pesticide residue legally allowed in baby food is 10 parts per billion, which is about the same as a single drop of water in 2 Olympic-sized swimming pools!

At Cow & Gate we go the extra mile by testing individual ingredients as well as the finished product to ensure that our foods are far below the legal maximum limit of pesticides for baby food.

In some ways, baby grade ingredients may actually be better than organic, as there are no legal controls on substances like nitrates in organic ingredients. At Cow & Gate, we test the soil as well as the produce to make sure the amount of nitrates is lower than the maximum amount allowed.

On top of all that, we try to use alternative methods of pest control when possible, such as using rapeseed oil to prevent eggs being laid on our apples.

Caring for our cows

To produce premium quality, baby grade beef, our cows live as naturally as possible. Antibiotics are used only when an animal is unwell. In addition, what our cows eat is very important. Our cattle farms are all based in Ireland, where the herds enjoy plenty of lush green ryegrass. In the winter months, when grass is not available, locally grown barley or other feed is used from fully certified farmers.

The leanest and most tender cuts of meat are always chosen to minimise the level of saturated fat in our recipes. But as babies need some fat to help them grow, we add healthier rapeseed oil to our foods.

Fish food

Fish is an important source of a wide range of nutrients and essential fats. We use wild Alaskan salmon and Alaskan pollock in our recipes, both of which are approved for sustainable fishing by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). We also use skipjack tuna, which is ideal for baby foods because of its smaller size, as larger types of tuna can contain higher levels of unwanted substances such as mercury. We currently use a mixture of skipjack tuna caught by pole and line, as well as nets, but we are working hard towards only using sustainable ways of fishing.

Taking responsibility

As well as producing baby grade ingredients for our baby food, we try to be more responsible in other ways. For instance, in Ecuador, where all our bananas are grown, we provide medical centres for the workers on our plantations, as well as schools for their children.

Also, once our bananas have been carefully hand-picked and hand-peeled, all the skins are collected and taken back to the plantations, where they are composted to create a rich, natural fertiliser that helps future bananas grow.

No added nasties

As well as keeping a tight control on the quality of ingredients that go into our foods, we’re also just as strict about what we leave out…
  • No artificial colours, flavours or preservatives

We don’t use any artificial colourings or flavourings in our baby foods. We also don’t need preservatives as our foods are cooked at a high temperature to kill off any bacteria that might spoil the food, and sealed straightaway after removing the oxygen.

  • No added salt
Salt is an ingredient which is tightly regulated in baby food, . You won’t find added salt in any of our recipes, except in those containing cheese. Cheese contains salt, but we’re careful about the types and amounts of cheese we put into our recipes, so they still taste great but have controlled levels of salt.
  • Reducing sugar levels
There is no added sugar in any of our savoury meals and the majority of our desserts. However, you will find a little sugar added to some dessert recipes, such as our rice pudding, where it is part of the traditional recipe. As baby nutrition experts, we know the importance of a healthy, balanced diet for babies, so we are aiming to reduce the levels of added sugar in those dessert jars.


The baby grade rules

So remember, to be truly baby grade, ingredients must be:
  • Grown and processed with a baby’s needs in mind.
  • Grown by farmers under strict guidance and in partnership with specialists.
  • Tested at multiple stages to make sure they are safe for babies to eat.
  • Grown where the crop does best, in suitable soil and away from potential contaminants.
  • Checked to ensure they have low pesticide residues.
  • Completely retraceable to their producer and supplier
Now you understand how much care and dedication is involved in making our range of baby foods, why not also take a look at the ‘Lifting the lid’ report or watch the related video? You’ll see why independent public health nutritionist, Fiona Wilcock said “…even if I bought the highest quality ingredients, organic or not, I couldn’t match the degree of quality assurance that Cow & Gate baby foods have.”