Parents hunting for baby formula as shortage spans US

May 9, 2022, 11:58 PM | Updated: May 10, 2022, 2:57 pm
Baby formula is displayed on the shelves of a grocery store with a sign limiting purchases in India...

Baby formula is displayed on the shelves of a grocery store with a sign limiting purchases in Indianapolis, Tuesday, May 10, 2022. Parents across the U.S. are scrambling to find baby formula because supply disruptions and a massive safety recall have swept many leading brands off store shelves. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Parents across the U.S. are scrambling to find baby formula because supply disruptions and a massive safety recall have swept many leading brands off store shelves.

Months of spot shortages at pharmacies and supermarkets have been exacerbated by the recall at Abbott, which was forced to shutter its largest U.S. formula manufacturing plant in February due to contamination concerns.

On Monday, White House press secretary Jenn Psaki said the Food and Drug Administration was “working around the clock to address any possible shortages.”

On Tuesday, the FDA said it was working with U.S. manufacturers to increase their output and streamlining paperwork to allow more imports.

For now, pediatricians and health workers are urging parents who can’t find formula to contact food banks or doctor’s offices. They warn against watering down formula to stretch supplies or using online DIY recipes.

“For babies who are not being breastfed, this is the only thing they eat,” said Dr. Steven Abrams, of the University of Texas, Austin. “So it has to have all of their nutrition and, furthermore, it needs to be properly prepared so that it’s safe for the smallest infants.”

Laura Stewart, a 52-year-old mother of three who lives just north of Springfield, Missouri, has been struggling for several weeks to find formula for her 10-month-old daughter, Riley.

Riley normally gets a brand of Abbott’s Similac designed for children with sensitive stomachs. Last month, she instead used four different brands.

“She spits up more. She’s just more cranky. She is typically a very happy girl,” Stewart said. “When she has the right formula, she doesn’t spit up. She’s perfectly fine.”

A small can costs $17 to $18 and lasts three to five days, Stewart said.

Like many Americans, Stewart relies on WIC — a federal program similar to food stamps that serves mothers and children — to afford formula for her daughter. Abbott’s recall wiped out many WIC-covered brands, though the program is now allowing substitutions.

Trying to keep formula in stock, retailers including CVS and Walgreens have begun limiting purchases to three containers per customer.

Nationwide about 40% of large retail stores are out of stock, up from 31% in mid-April, according to Datasembly, a data analytics firm. More than half of U.S. states are seeing out-of-stock rates between 40% and 50%, according to the firm, which collects data from 11,000 locations.

Baby formula is particularly vulnerable to disruptions because just a handful of companies account for almost the entire U.S. supply.

Industry executives say the constraints began last year as the COVID-19 pandemic led to disruptions in ingredients, labor and transportation. Supplies were further squeezed by parents stockpiling during lockdowns.

Then in February, Abbott recalled several major brands and shut down its Sturgis, Michigan, factory when federal officials concluded four babies suffered bacterial infections after consuming formula from the facility. Two of the infants died.

When FDA inspectors visited the plant in March they found lax safety protocols and traces of the bacteria on several surfaces. None of the bacterial strains matched those collected from the infants, however, and the FDA hasn’t offered an explanation for how the contamination occurred.

For its part, Abbott says its formula “is not likely the source of infection,” though the FDA says its investigation continues.

Chicago-based Abbott said it is increasing production at its other facilities to fill the gap, including air-shipping formula from a plant in Ireland.

The shortages are especially dangerous for infants who require specialty formulas due to food allergies, digestive problems and other conditions.

“Unfortunately, many of those very specialized formulas are only made in the United States at the factory that had the recall, and that’s caused a huge problem for a relatively small number of infants,” Abrams said.

After hearing concerns from parents, the FDA said last month that Abbott could begin releasing some specialty formulas not affected by the recalls “on a case-by-case basis.” The company is providing them free of charge, in coordination with physicians and hospitals.

Food safety advocates say the FDA made the right call in releasing the formula, but that parents should talk to their pediatricians before using it.

“There’s still some risk from the formula because we know there are problems at the plant and FDA hasn’t identified a root cause,” said Sarah Sorscher of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “But it’s worth releasing because these infants might die without it.”

It’s unclear when the Abbott plant might reopen.

The FDA said the company is still working “to rectify findings related to the processes, procedures and conditions.” Other infant formula makers are “meeting or exceeding capacity levels to meet current demand,” the agency said.

Among other steps, the FDA said it was waiving enforcement of minor product labeling issues to increase availability of both U.S. and imported products.

___

Hollingsworth reported from Kansas City, Missouri.

___

Follow Matthew Perrone on Twitter: @AP_FDAwriter

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

Archives: Records from Trump WH staffers remain missing

WASHINGTON (AP) — The National Archives and Records Administration informed lawmakers that a number of electronic communications from Trump White House staffers remain missing, nearly two years since the administration was required to turn them over. The nation’s record-keeping agency, in a letter Friday to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, said that despite […]
17 hours ago
Women work in fields near the windmill farm in Anantapur district, Andhra Pradesh, India, Wednesday...
Associated Press

What the war in Ukraine means for Asia’s climate goals

NEW DELHI, India (AP) — The queues outside petrol pumps in Sri Lanka have lessened, but not the anxiety. Asanka Sampath, a 43-year-old factory clerk, is forever vigilant. He checks his phone for messages, walks past the pump, and browses social media to see if fuel has arrived. Delays could mean being left stranded for […]
17 hours ago
Associated Press

Hundreds of cars pack Nevada streets for illegal stunts

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Thousands of people in hundreds of cars took over northern Nevada parking lots and intersections Friday night and into Saturday, performing stunts in souped-up vehicles and leading to crashes and arrests, police said. Police beefed up nighttime staffing after social media posts urged people from San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, to […]
17 hours ago
Associated Press

Moose back on the loose after rescuers free it from fence

BARKHAMSTED, Conn. (AP) — A moose is back on the loose in Connecticut after some quick-acting rescuers helped to free it from a fence. The Connecticut State Environmental Police received a call at around midnight about a moose stuck in Barkhamsted, northwest of Hartford. Local fire department personnel and state police responded early Saturday to […]
17 hours ago
This booking photo provided by the El Paso, Texas, County Sheriff's Office shows Michael Sheppard, ...
Associated Press

Migrant-death suspect ran detention center accused of abuse

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — One of two Texas brothers who authorities say opened fire on a group of migrants getting water near the U.S.-Mexico border, killing one and injuring another, was warden at a detention facility with a history of abuse allegations. The shooting happened Tuesday in rural Hudspeth County about 90 miles (145 kilometers) […]
17 hours ago
FILE - People visit a makeshift memorial honoring the victims of the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting in...
Associated Press

Vegas survivors signal hope even as mass shootings persist

LAS VEGAS (AP) — It’s been five years since carnage and death sent his family running into the night, leaving them separated and terrified as a gunman rained bullets into an outdoor country music festival crowd on the Las Vegas Strip. The memories don’t fade, they sharpen, William “Bill” Henning said as he prepared for […]
17 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.
...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
Parents hunting for baby formula as shortage spans US