Amid continued infant formula shortage, Abbott restarts production

After a months-long infant formula shortage caused in part by the closure of the Abbott Laboratories plant in Sturgis, Michigan, Abbott has now resumed operations at that plant.

The hope is that this move will soon lead to shelves being restocked with the formula parents are craving across the country.

Abbott recalls powdered infant formula due to contamination concerns

On February 17, 2022, Abbott announced the recall of certain powdered infant formula, including Similac, Alimentum and EleCare. These were all made at the Sturgis, Michigan plant.

Abbott announced the recall due to four consumer complaints of illnesses related to Cronobacter sakazakii Where Salmonella Newport. These illnesses occurred in infants who had consumed powdered infant formula made at the Michigan facility.

As part of its routine testing, Abbott found evidence of Cronobacter sakazakii in the factory in non-contact areas. Testing of the finished product, however, detected no pathogens, and Abbott issued a statement on May 11, 2022, that after a “thorough review of all available data”, there was no link between its formula and diseases.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have investigated the reports of illness and advised parents not to use the recalled formulas during this investigation. Investigators found Cronobacter in medium and high care areas of powdered infant formula production. These investigations are now complete.

After taking corrective action, Abbott restarts production

The closure of the Michigan facility contributed significantly to the already rife infant shortage. Due to supply chain issues, labor shortages and shipping issues, stores were already struggling to keep their shelves stocked with formula before the recall.

After the recall, the shortages worsened. For the week ending May 28e2022, Bloomberg reported that 74% of the formula was out of stock at retailers nationwide, up from 45% two weeks prior and around 11% in November 2021.

Abbott restarted production at its formula plant in Sturgis, Michigan on June 4, 2022. The company began production of EleCare, a hypoallergenic product for babies who cannot tolerate other formulas, as well as other specialized formulas. The first batches of EleCare are expected to be available on June 20e. It will take longer to produce and ship Similac and other products.

The reboot began after Abbott met initial contamination control requirements agreed with the FDA. In May, a federal judge signed the agreement, which outlined steps the company would take to restart production.

These steps included:

  • Education review and update
  • Training and safety procedures for employees and visitors
  • Updated water protocols and facility cleaning and maintenance procedures

Plant improvements including installation of non-porous, easily cleanable and sanitary floors