Formula shortages persist months after recalls

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A recall of popular infant formula brands earlier this year affected more than 14,000 infants in Wisconsin and continues to limit access to infant formula, according to state health officials.

“It varies a bit from week to week, day to day,” said Kari Malone, director of the state’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. “We are still seeing shortages.”

Malone, speaking on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Morning Show” on Thursday, said the reopening of a Michigan plant could help ease formula shortages. But we don’t know how long that could happen. The factory is run by Abbott, which produces Similac and other popular baby formulas.

In February, Abbott closed the Michigan plant following consumer complaints about cronobacter sakazakii and salmonella newport, according to NPR. Abbott recalled some of its powdered baby formulas and later expanded the recall after learning of the death of an infant who had consumed Similac and tested positive for cronobacter sakazakii.

In Wisconsin, recalls and plant closures sparked a crisis. The state’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program, which operates under the state Department of Health, serves thousands of families who qualify for infant formula based on family income.

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Chris Grover, the program’s vendor relations manager, said the USDA has granted the state waivers that allow families to be issued more formula than usual and different brands of formula.

“We added over 100 different formulas to meet the remaining needs after Abbott’s recall,” Grover said. “These recalls have weighed very heavily on some of these specialty formula areas.”

Malone said state health officials have not received any reports of illnesses linked to the recalled products in Wisconsin. But supply shortages continue to be a challenge, even as other infant formula brands seek to ramp up production and meet demand.

“I think it will take us some time to see a healthy market on the shelves again,” she said.

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