Less than two weeks after baby formula production restarted at an Abbott plant in Michigan, local flooding forced its shutdown again — sending parents scrambling to find supplies amid an ongoing shortage.
“It’s tough. It’s really stressful, to be honest,” Hayley Martinez, 31, of Houston, told the Daily News, describing attempts to feed her weeksold baby. Even without the latest shutdown, she had been struggling to feed her infant daughter to supplement her own supply.
Severe storms in southwestern Michigan on Monday wreaked havoc, including at Sturgis, where the city’s stormwater system was overwhelmed, Abbott said in a statement Wednesday night. As a result, the factory has stopped production of its EleCare specialty formula so officials can “assess damage caused by the storm and clean and resanitize the plant.”
Production and distribution of EleCare could be delayed by weeks, the company said.
On Wednesday night, however, the Food and Drug Administration said despite the shutdown, there should be enough formula to go around.
“I personally spoke to the CEO tonight and we discussed our shared desire to get the facility up and running again as quickly as possible,” FDA Commissioner Robert Califf tweeted. “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.”
“We know Abbott is working quickly to assess the damage and will be reporting its progress to us in the days ahead. Once the company establishes a plan, FDA will be back in the facility working to ensure that they can restart producing safe and quality formula products quickly. Making sure that parents and caregivers have access to both safe and available infant formula remains a top priority for the FDA, and our teams are working night and day to help make that happen.”
The Sturgis factory had been shut down for months after an inspector found cronobacter sakazakii bacteria, which also led to recalls of Alimentum and EleCare powdered infant formulas. The doors reopened June 4, with the plant in operation for less than two weeks before the flooding.
In late May, President Biden invoked the Defense Production Act to force suppliers of formula ingredients to prioritize delivery to formula makers Abbott and Reckitt. The administration has also been shipping formula in from around the world to supplement the supply.
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Retail monitoring company Datasembly said the end was in sight, despite the new setback.
“While the infant formula stock situation in the U.S. continues to be quite volatile, there are measures being implemented to drive inventory into the market, and it is expected that we are nearing the peak of the out-of-stock situation,” spokeswoman Kelly Potts told The News in an email.
That was small comfort to mothers like Dani Debold, whose 10-month-old son needs supplemental formula. She had switched to a different formula and is hoping those supplies hold out until her son can be fully weaned in a couple of months.
“That makes me more concerned,” she said when told of the latest shutdown. “I would be very worried if he was still in his first few months.”
The shortage also underscored an underlying problem, lactation expert Sheila Janakos said.
“It really highlights how we have food insecurity for our infants,” she said, noting disasters like Hurricane Katrina caused similar situations.
“It’s something that we’re not taking seriously,” she said. “Cities and states have disaster plans, but they never think about infants.”