Abbott Restarts Baby Formula Plant Linked to Contamination

WASHINGTON — Abbott Nutrition has restarted production at the Michigan baby formula factory that has been closed for months due to contamination, the company said Saturday, taking a step toward easing a nationwide supply shortage expected to persist into the summer.

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

Abbott indicated that EleCare will be the first priority for production. This is for children with serious food allergies and other nutritional needs. It will be three weeks before the new formula from this plant appears on supermarket shelves, according to Abbott.

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

The plant’s reopening is one of several federal actions that are expected to improve supplies in the weeks ahead. President Joe Biden’s administration has eased import rules for foreign manufacturers, airlifted formula from Europe and invoked federal emergency rules to prioritize U.S. production.

Abbott, a Michigan-based manufacturer, closed Sturgis’ factory after four infections were discovered by the Food and Drug Administration. Two babies were killed. It continues to claim that the products are not linked to these infections.

FDA inspectors found a variety of violations in the plant including lax safety protocols and bacterial contamination. FDA was subject to intense scrutiny after it took months for the plant to be closed and then negotiated its reopening. Recent congressional testimony by agency officials revealed that they needed to reach a legally binding deal with Abbott in order to ensure all issues were addressed.

Abbott’s February recall of several leading brands, including Similac, squeezed supplies that had already been strained by supply chain disruptions and stockpiling during COVID-19 shutdowns.

Specialty formulas are often needed by children who suffer from allergies, intestinal problems or metabolic disorders. According to Federal Officials, the Abbott factory provides nutritional support for about 5,000 U.S. children.

Abbott is among four companies producing about 90% of U.S. formulations. The company’s recalls and shutdown triggered a cascade of effects: Retailers have limited customer purchasing to conserve supplies and parents have been told to switch brands to whatever formula is in stock.

Robert Califf (FDA Commissioner) recently said that formula supply could take up to two months to reach normal. To accept formulas from Australia and the United Kingdom more readily, many FDA regulations have been abrogated.

Reckitt and Gerber have increased their production and now run plants 24 hours a day. They also source more formula from other facilities.

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