The ongoing baby formula shortage, caused by a combination of recalls and supply chain issues, has intensified in recent weeks.
The Washington Post reported that formula stockpiles were 43% lower than usual last week— up from the 30% to 40% range last month.
As the United States works to build its supply, here’s the latest on the baby formula shortage.
Why is there a baby formula shortage?
Supply chain issues connected to the pandemic contributed to a shortage in a variety of products, but the baby formula shortage worsened in February when manufacturer Abbott issued a recall for products made at a Michigan plant, The Washington Post reported.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said to avoid certain powdered formulas that may have been tied to bacterial infections in four hospitalized babies, and may have led to the death of two of those babies, the Deseret News previously reported. Those formulas were produced at the Abbott Nutrition facility in Sturgis, Michigan.
On May 12, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the investigation was closed, with no additional cases identified, according to FDA.gov. Following the Abbott investigation, there is no evidence linking the formulas to the infant illnesses, Abbott said in a statement sent to the Deseret News.
- “Abbott conducts microbiological testing on products prior to distribution and no Abbott formula distributed to consumers tested positive for Cronobacter sakazakii or Salmonella,” the company said in the statement. “All finished product testing by Abbott and the FDA during the inspection of the facility came back negative for Cronobacter and/or Salmonella.
- “No Salmonella was found at the Sturgis facility,” the company continued. “The Cronobacter sakazakii that was found in environmental testing during the investigation was in non-product contact areas of the facility and has not been linked to any known infant illness.”
Abbott has announced it could return to production at the facility in two weeks, with approval from the FDA, although it would take another six to eight weeks for products to hit shelves, The Washington Post reported. FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said parents should hear from Abbott “very soon” about its path forward, NBC News reported.
The Atlantic has also pointed out that U.S. trade policies are contributing to the shortage. According to Atlantic reporter Derek Thompson, FDA regulation is so rigid that most of the formula that comes out of Europe is illegal to buy in the United States — and the U.S. also restricts the importation of formula that meets FDA requirements.
Califf said there could be an announcement about a change in the country’s importation policies as soon as May 16, according to NBC News.
Which baby formulas have been recalled?
According to the Deseret News, the FDA has advised avoiding using Similac, Alimentum or EleCare formulas if:
- The first two digits of the code are 22 through 37.
- The code on the container has K8, SH or Z2.
- The expiration date is April 1, 2022, or later.
Additionally, Abbott Nutrition recalled Similac PM 60/40 with a lot code 27032K80 (can)/ 27032K800 (case), according to FDA.gov. Parents can also enter a product’s code number at similacrecall.com to check a specific formula.
Is the baby formula shortage getting better?
Ron Klain, the White House chief of staff, recently said the White House “is ‘absolutely’ and ‘strongly’ considering having President Joe Biden invoke the Defense Production Act to address the urgent baby formula shortage problem plaguing the country,” CNN reported.
This would give the government more control to direct industrial production, according to CNN.
- “Right now of course we’re keeping that option under consideration, but our focus primarily is on twofold: One is increasing supply, and the other is making it readily available,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a press briefing on May 13, CNN reported.
The White House recently announced plans to increase baby formula imports, ease up on restricting the type of formula parents can buy, and getting the Federal Trade Commission and state attorney generals to look into unfair market practices, the Deseret News reported.
Following these recent efforts, manufacturers have increased production by about 30% to 50%, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Abbott has also been working to increase supply at its other FDA-registered facilities, including bringing in Similac from its site in Cootehill, Ireland, by air, the company said in a statement sent to the Deseret News. Abbott is also producing more liquid Similac and Alimentum, and has begun releasing metabolic formulas previously on hold at the FDA’s request for those who need specific formulas.
How can you get baby formula?
Despite recent actions, the demand for formula is still exceeding supply, and people unable to find formula on shelves can look into the following resources, shared on HHS.gov.
- Gerber’s MyGerber Baby Expert provides a certified nutrition or lactation consultant who can help identify a similar formula that may be more readily available or accessible.
- Parents can call Abbott’s Consumer Hotline at 1-800-986-8540. According to The Washington Post, parents who require specialized formulas can call Abbott at 1-800-881-0876 to request a product on a case-by-case basis.
- Parents can ask their OBGYN or child’s pediatrician to submit an urgent product request form for Abbott’s product request line.
- Parents can call Reckitt’s Customer Service line at 1-800-222-9123.
Parents should also reach out to their child’s pediatrician, as health care providers may be able to help find samples or connect them with a local formula representative or charity, The New York Times reported. The Times also recommended parents join regional Facebook groups that have helped people find their preferred formulas.
For additional guidance and resources, visit HHS.gov.
How much formula should you have on hand?
Experts have advised parents to resist the urge to overstock on formula.
- “If you’re hoarding formula, just keep in mind that’s causing other families not to have access to it,” Dr. Katie Lockwood, a physician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Primary Care, told The New York Times. “Be sensitive to the fear and anxiety that may cause others.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics has said that amid the shortage, parents should have no more than a 10-day to two-week supply.