Abbott’s baby formula plant halts production again, this time due to flooding

Abbott Nutrition, which worsened the baby formula shortage in the United States when it temporarily closed a Michigan plant in February due to the presence of bacteria, said it had again halted production at the plant, this time due to flooding during a strong storm.

The company said Wednesday that it was forced to stop production of its special formula EleCare in Sturgis, Michigan, one of Abbott’s five manufacturing sites, after severe weather hit southwestern Michigan on Monday and flooded parts of plant.

The company said it was assessing the damage and cleaning up the plant, which would delay production and distribution for a few weeks, but that it had enough supplies of EleCare and most of its metabolic and specialty formulas to meet demand until the new formula is available.

“These products are being launched to consumers who need them in coordination with health professionals,” he said.

Robert M. Califf, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said the agency had been informed about the suspension, but that it was not expected to have much impact, given the increase in formula imports and the production of Abbott and other manufacturers.

“While this is an unfortunate setback and a reminder that natural weather events can also cause unforeseen supply chain disruptions, I want to assure consumers that government-wide work to increase supply means we will have more products than enough to meet current demand. ,” he said in a statement on Twitter.

The storm knocked out power and caused wind damage, the Sturgis Journal reported, and the city’s municipal airport recorded 1.5 inches of rain.

The plant walkout was the latest twist in a U.S. baby formula shortage that began earlier this year when pandemic-related supply chain issues, including shortages of some ingredients, made it difficult to that parents find formula.

In February, the problems were exacerbated when Abbott recalled lots of its Similac, Alimentum and EleCare formulas and closed the Sturgis facility after the FDA received four consumer complaints of bacterial infections linked to the formulas. Three of the complaints concerned Cronobacter sakazakii, a bacterium that can cause serious and life-threatening infections or inflammation of the membranes that protect the brain and spine.

At least two babies have died, though Abbott has said there was no evidence its formula caused known childhood illnesses.

After the closure, Abbott said it increased production at other manufacturing plants in the United States and at one in Ireland.

Abbott and other producers have been ramping up production as the government eases import regulations. “This means that the total amount of formula available, even before the Sturgis plant is back in production, exceeds the demand for formula before the recall,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Califf.

On June 4, Abbott said it had resumed production of EleCare at the Sturgis plant for an expected launch to consumers around June 20, and was “working hard” to restart production of Similac and other formulations. But that moment seems unclear after the flood.

“Once the plant is re-sanitized and production resumes, we will begin production of EleCare again, followed by special and metabolic formulas,” the company said in its statement late Wednesday. “In parallel, we will work to restart Similac production at the plant as soon as possible.”

The baby formula shortage had threatened to become a public health and political disaster. President Biden invoked the Defense Production Act to increase production and authorized the use of Department of Defense aircraft for “Operation Fly Formula.”

In May, the first in a series of international shipments of infant formula arrived in the United States under the program, to expedite imports and begin stocking in stores. The seventh shipment is made on Thursday, when Nestle’s formula flies from Switzerland to Louisville, Ky., the White House said.

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