The baby formula plant that closed and fueled the crisis restarts production

Abbott Nutrition, the company that caused a national shortage of baby formula when it closed a leading production plant in February due to contamination problems, said on Saturday that the site has restarted production of EleCare and other formulas.

The restart of the plant in Sturgis, Michigan, which was the result of a settlement with the federal Food and Drug Administration, renewed hope that it would ease a formula shortage that has caused the struggle of stressed parents.

Out-of-stock rates had soared to about 74 percent in stores across the country as of the week ending May 28, according to Datasembly, which tracks retail data. The crisis, which had been accumulating for months and stemmed from supply problems due to the pandemic, worsened with the closure of the plant.

In a statement, Abbott said that EleCare would be released to consumers around June 20 and that it was “working hard” to restart production of Similac and other formulations.

“We understand the urgent need for formula and our top priority is getting safe, high-quality formula into the hands of families across America,” the company said. “We will ramp up production as quickly as we can while meeting all requirements.”

In February, Abbott announced it was voluntarily recalling three types of infant formula after four infants fed formula made at the Sturgis plant fell ill with bacterial infections.

The FDA had received three consumer complaints about Cronobacter sakazakii, a bacterium that can cause serious and life-threatening infections or inflammation of the membranes that protect the brain and spinal cord. Abbott has said there was “no conclusive evidence” to link the company’s formulas to the illnesses.

Dr. Robert M. Califf, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, told a House panel last month that the Sturgis plant had roof leaks, water pooling on the floor and cracks in equipment. production that allowed bacteria to enter and persist.

He detailed “extremely unsanitary” conditions, but also acknowledged his agency was too slow to address problems at the plant.

In a statement Saturday, the FDA said it had investigators at the Sturgis plant for several days to look at improvements to floors, ceilings and equipment made at the facility. Abbott reported that the facility tested negative for Cronobacter, the agency said.

A consent decree the company signed with the government provides a number of new safeguards, including hiring a qualified expert to oversee improvements at the plant and notify the FDA if it finds any contamination.

The agency said Saturday that the steps it has taken and the restart of the Sturgis plant “will mean that more and more infant formula is either on the way or already on store shelves in the future.”

The plant closure exacerbated an existing supply crisis, as parents scrambled to stock up on formula, sometimes driving for hours, while networking on social media to help them connect with dwindling supplies.

With store shelves empty in some communities, some parents have been so desperate that they’ve fed their babies powdered oatmeal and fruit juice, even though pediatricians recommend formula or breast milk as crucial sources of nutrition from birth to the baby’s first birthday.

In the short term, imports from Europe and elsewhere announced by the White House are expected to play a bigger role in alleviating shortages than restarting the Sturgis plant, Steven A. Abrams, a professor of pediatrics at the School of Medicine. Dell of the University of Texas at Austin said on Saturday.

The reopening of the Abbott plant will be a relief to parents of babies with severe allergies because EleCare is geared toward them, Dr. Abrams said.

“What most families face in the grocery store, the importation of formulas that will happen from British, Australian and Mexican sources, will have a much bigger impact,” he said.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.