Abbott Baby Formula Plant Again Stops Production, This Time Because of Flooding

Abbott Nutrition, which worsened a baby formula shortage in the United States when it temporarily shut down a Michigan plant in February because of the presence of bacteria, said it had again stopped production at the plant, this time because of flooding during a severe storm.

The company said on Wednesday that it was forced to stop production of its EleCare specialty formula in Sturgis, Mich., one of Abbott’s five manufacturing sites, after severe weather moved through southwestern Michigan on Monday, flooding parts of the plant.

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

“These products are being released to consumers in need in coordination with health care professionals,” it said.

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

Read More on the Baby Formula Shortage

Understand the Shortage: With just a handful of companies making infant formula for the U.S. market, the shutdown of an Abbott Laboratories plant had an outsize effect.
Premature Babies: Many newborns who spend time in the NICU rely on specialized formula to thrive once they come home. As the shortage continues, their parents can’t find it anywhere.
Pumping for the Cause: In New York City, the shortage has prompted a huge volunteer effort, with some mothers donating their excess supply of breast milk to help other parents.
An Emotional Toll: The shortage is forcing many new mothers to push themselves harder to breastfeed, with some even looking for ways to start again after having stopped.

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

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

The stoppage at the plant was the latest twist in the baby formula shortage in the United States, which started earlier this year, when pandemic-related supply chain issues, including a scarcity of some ingredients, made it difficult for parents to find formula.

In February, the problems were exacerbated when Abbott recalled batches of its Similac, Alimentum and EleCare formulas and shut down the Sturgis facility after the F.D.A. received four consumer complaints of bacterial infections related to the formulas. Three of the complaints concerned Cronobacter sakazakii, a bacterium that can cause severe, life-threatening infections or inflammation of the membranes that protect the brain and spine.

At least two babies died, although Abbott has said that there was no evidence its formula caused any known infant illnesses.

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

Navigating the Baby Formula Shortage in the U.S.

A growing problem. A nationwide shortage of baby formula — triggered in part by supply-chain issues and worsened by a recall by the baby food manufacturer Abbott Nutrition — has left parents confused and concerned. Here are some ways to manage this uncertainty:

Finding formula. If your baby’s formula was not affected by the recall, but is still not available, you can try calling local stores to ask when they expect to get it back in stock. You may also be able to buy it online. If your baby is on special formula, reach out to your doctor’s office: They might have samples in stock.

Picking a new formula. If you typically use a name-brand formula, look for its generic version. Alternatively, seek a new formula that matches the ingredients listed in your usual one. If your baby is on a special formula for health reasons, check with your pediatrician before switching.

Transitioning to a new product. Ideally, you will want to switch your child gradually. Start by mixing three quarters of your usual formula with one quarter of the new one and gradually phase out the old product. If you can’t transition gradually because you’ve run out of your usual formula, that’s OK, although you might notice more gassiness or fussiness during the transition.

What not to do. If you can’t find your baby’s usual formula, don’t make your own — homemade formulas are often nutritionally inadequate and at risk of contamination. Don’t try to “stretch” your formula by adding extra water, and don’t buy it from unvetted online marketplaces like Craigslist. For a baby less than 1 year old, don’t use toddler formula.

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 prior to the recall,” Dr. Califf, the F.D.A. commissioner, said.

On June 4, Abbott said that it had resumed production of EleCare at the Sturgis plant for an expected release to consumers around June 20, and that it was “working hard” to restart production of Similac and other formulas. But that timing appears unclear after the flooding.

“Once the plant is re-sanitized and production resumes, we will again begin EleCare production, followed by specialty and metabolic formulas,” the company said in its statement late on 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 political and public health disaster. President Biden invoked the Defense Production Act to increase production and authorized the use of Defense Department planes for “Operation Fly Formula.”

In May, the first in a series of international shipments of infant formula was flown into the United States under the program, to speed up imports and to start getting stock in stores. The seventh shipment takes place on Thursday when Nestlé formula is flown from Switzerland to Louisville, Ky., the White House said.

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