Baby Formula Plant At Heart Of Shortage Reopens

Source: Washington Post

Abbott Nutrition resumed production at its shuttered Sturgis, Mich., baby formula factory over the weekend, offering hope that a nationwide shortage that had left parents scrambling to find sustenance for their children could ease in the coming weeks.

The company said it was resuming production “after meeting initial requirements” that were specified by a May consent decree with the Food and Drug Administration. The company was required to obtain an independent expert to review operations and compliance with the law, among other things.

The factory was closed earlier this year after an FDA inspection turned up allegedly unsanitary conditions. The factory produced most of the country’s supply of powdered Similac and was the main producer of specialty formulas, so its closure severely curtailed supplies.

The closure of the facility led to a dramatic disappearance of specialty formula, sparking panic among many parents who rely on the products to feed their children. The crisis raised questions about the fragility of the supply chain for a critical food source.

The company has said previously that it will take two weeks for production to fully resume and another six to eight weeks to get the product on store shelves. The plant will prioritize the production of EleCare, a specialty amino acid-based formula for children with multiple allergies, before it ramps up production of its mainstream products. On Saturday, Abbott said it expected to release EleCare “to consumers beginning on or about June 20.”

Abbott says it has made a number of upgrades, including replacing a leaking roof and installing nonporous, easily cleanable and sanitary floors to remove the risk of standing water. In addition, Abbott has updated its education, training and safety procedures for employees and visitors, as well as its cleaning and maintenance procedures at the facility.

The facility’s reopening will not immediately lead to fully stocked grocery shelves. Even with Operation Fly Formula bringing in millions of bottles from Australia, the United Kingdom and Germany, data research firm IRI reported that store inventories were still slightly worse in recent weeks when compared with the beginning of May. Parents continue to report difficulty finding the formula they need, with some driving long distances and others paying a premium to buy it online.

Abbott said the EleCare product could reach stores in about 16 days, but it could take weeks for the formula made in Sturgis to fully reach shelves because of the time required for the formula to be dried and safety-tested. T

Four major companies control 90 percent of the infant formula supply in the United States: Abbott (which controls 43%), Gerber, Mead Johnson, Perrigo Nutritionals.

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