Factory Involved In Formula Shortage May Be Tied To Another Infant Death

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released a new report that may link a third infant death to the alleged outbreak of the Cronobacter bacteria at an Abbott Laboratories manufacturing plant, per the Wall Street Journal, which produces the Similac, EleCare, and Alimentum baby formulas. The company was forced to close its Sturgis, MI plant after an FDA inspection found traces of the bacteria in February. An infant formula recall was also issued for products that originated from the plant.

One of the country's top infant formula producers, the New York Times reports the plant's closure in part led to a shortage of infant formula throughout the U.S. According to the Wall Street Journal, Abbott's products accounted for 48% of the nation's formula sales before the recall.

Infant formula has been hard to come by for Americans for much of 2022. Formula stock was already lower than average due to supply chain issues before the Abbott plant closure and product recalls put manufacturers well behind consumer needs. According to sales data collected by Datasembly, the out-of-stock rate for baby formula was around 73% at the end of May (via NPR). The Abbot plant was reopened briefly in May but was closed again shortly after due to flooding damage. In an attempt to help increase infant formula production, President Biden enacted the Defense Production Act of 1950 and announced airlifts from Europe (via The New York Times). Reckitt Benckiser, who manufactures Enfamil baby formula, also imported the equivalent of 66 million 8-oz bottles of infant formula from a manufacturing plant in Singapore to help address the shortage.

Third possible death linked to infant formula recall

Per the FDA, the most recent death that may have been caused by a bacterial infection linked to the Abbott baby formula comes after the child reportedly consumed Abbott Laboratories' infant formula before their death in January. The Wall Street Journal reports the FDA is in the preliminary stages of its investigation and declined to share any information beyond the mention of the Cronobacter bacteria.

The bacteria Cronobacter sakazakii is a naturally occurring germ that can cause severe illnesses and possibly even death in infants less than a year old, per the CDC. This bacteria was reportedly found at Abbott's Sturgis, MI plant during an FDA inspection in February 2022. The formula has now allegedly been linked to five infant illness cases, three of which died. Abbott Laboratories has denied that its infant formula was the cause of the deaths, and the FDA's full investigation remains ongoing (via NPR).