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Baby formula shortages hit Texas

By C.J. Vetter

KYLE – When looking to feed a hungry baby, empty shelves are an unwelcome sight.

But at many retailers across Hays County, the formula aisles are scarce of product and those few that still have them are enacting limits on the amount purchasable. Grocery chains like H-E-B, Walmart and Target have all placed limitations on the amount of baby formula available to buy. Shortages have been visible within the last few months with specific types of formulas, such as those for sensitive stomachs, remaining out of stock for long periods of time. Regular formula is also running low, forcing residents to look elsewhere.

The primary reason for the dwindling supply is a recall that was performed by formula manufacturer Abbott, the owner of Similac, which is one of the nation’s leading brands of infant formula, according to Consumer Reports. The recall was initiated after four infants fell ill with bacterial infections after consuming the formula, with two later dying. The bacteria identified as the cause of the infections is Cronobacter Sakazakii. Following the Food and Drug Administration and Center for Disease Control warning to parents not to purchase the formula, Abbott sent out a voluntary recall for the impacted lots of formula and shut down production at its Sturgis, Michigan plant.

“As a grandma, we’re having a heck of a time here finding it for my grandson,” said Verna Wommack on the Hays Free Press Facebook page. “We just had four generous friends from all over the U.S. mail it to us.”

Although no reports have identified any product shown to be contaminated by the bacteria, an investigation by the FDA into the Sturgis plant showed the presence of Cronobacter in non-product contact areas. The plant closed while the investigation was underway, leaving the U.S. critically under-supplied.

“About three months ago, I mailed a certain brand and type that was ordered by a doctor to a friend in Wisconsin. The entire state of Wisconsin was out,” said Dorothy Andreasen on the Hays Free Press Facebook page. “I bought it at a Walmart in Buda as she couldn’t even order it.”

As of May 12, the investigation has closed, and Abbott has initiated  the process of responding to the FDA’s report. Efforts to reopen the production plant are underway, with a goal to re-open within two weeks and get the product back on shelves in six. Abbott has also partnered with the help the most impacted people, by helping ship formula from its Ireland located factory, or helping pay for competitive brands through government programs like WIC. The U.S. is also expediting imports of formula from Europe. However, due to stringent laws by the FDA, most baby formula produced overseas is illegal to import. 

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