Abbott restarts infant formula plant in Michigan due to contamination

WASHINGTON – Abbott Nutrition has resumed production at its Michigan baby formula plant, which has been closed for months due to contamination, the company said Saturday, taking a step to alleviate a statewide supply shortage that is expected to last into the summer.

The closure of the country’s largest infant formula factory in February created supply problems that have forced some parents to seek infant formula from food banks, friends and doctors’ offices.

Abbott said it will first prioritize production of its EleCare specialty formulas for infants with severe food allergies and digestive issues who have few other feeding options. The company said it will be about three weeks before the new formula from the plant shows up on store shelves.

“We will ramp up production as quickly as possible while meeting all requirements,” Abbott said in a statement.

The plant’s reopening is one of several federal measures expected to improve supplies in the coming weeks. President Joe Biden’s administration has relaxed import rules for foreign manufacturers, flown formulas out of Europe and invoked federal emergency rules to prioritize US production.

Abbott closed the Sturgis, Michigan factory in February after the Food and Drug Administration began investigating four bacterial infections in infants who consumed powdered formula from the plant. Two of the babies died. The company also states that its products have not been directly linked to infections involving different strains of bacteria.

FDA inspectors eventually uncovered a variety of violations at the facility, including bacterial contamination, a leaking roof and lax safety protocols. The FDA came under intense scrutiny because it took them months to close the facility and then negotiate its reopening. Agency leaders recently told Congress they needed to reach a legally binding agreement with Abbott to ensure all issues were resolved.

Abbott’s February recall of several leading brands, including Similac, depressed shipments already strained by supply chain disruptions and warehousing during the COVID-19 shutdowns.

The deficiency was worst in children with allergies, digestive problems and metabolic disorders who depend on special foods. The Abbott factory is the sole source of many of these products, feeding about 5,000 US babies, according to federal officials.

Abbott is one of only four companies that make about 90% of the U.S. formula. The recalls and company closure triggered a cascade of effects: retailers have restricted customer purchases to conserve supplies and parents have been told to switch brands to the in-stock formula.

FDA Commissioner Robert Califf recently told lawmakers it could take about two months for infant formula supplies to return to normal levels. The agency has waived many of its regulatory requirements to accept more formulas from the UK, Australia and other countries.

US manufacturers, including Reckitt and Gerber, have also increased production, running plants around the clock and sourcing more formula from alternative facilities.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

https://abc7.com/abbott-michigan-plant-baby-formula-shortage/11926740/ Abbott restarts infant formula plant in Michigan due to contamination

Laura Coffey

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