Floodwaters force infant formula plant to close down again ‘for a few weeks’

The infant formula plant that just reopened June 4 after being closed for almost four months because of food safety problems is closed again, this time because of flooding.

Abbott Nutrition’s production plant in Sturgis, MI, closed down earlier this week after floodwaters swept through the area, according to a statement from the company.

“These torrential storms produced significant rainfall in a short period of time – overwhelming the city’s stormwater system in Sturgis, Mich., and resulting in flooding in parts of the city, including areas of our plant,” according to company officials.

“As a result, Abbott has stopped production of its EleCare specialty formula that was underway to assess damage caused by the storm and clean and re-sanitize the plant. We have informed FDA and will conduct comprehensive testing in conjunction with the independent third party to ensure the plant is safe to resume production. This will likely delay production and distribution of new product for a few weeks.”

The closure will no doubt impact an already serious supply shortage of infant formula that has plagued the United States since March. The Abbott facility was closed Feb. 17 after the Food and Drug Administration found five different strains of Cronabacter bacteria and “disgusting” conditions including a leaking roof, broken equipment and lax food safety practices, according to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf.

President Biden implimented the Defense Production Act to help ease the shortage, which has seen parents driving for hours at a time to find formula for their babies. The FDA has relaxed some regulations to allow for the importation of formula from other countries.

The company says there is plenty of speciality formula to go around.

“Based upon historical demand and current projections, Abbott has ample existing supply of EleCare and most of its specialty and metabolic formulas to meet needs for these products until new product is available. These products are being released to consumers in need in coordination with healthcare professionals. Parents or caregivers in need should contact their healthcare professional or contact Abbott at 800-881-0876 for additional information,” according to the company’s statement.

Abbott’s production plant in Sturgis has been linked to at least four infections in infants, according to the FDA. Two of the infants have died. There were not samples from all of the babies, but for the sample available, it was not an exact match for the strains of Cronobacter found in the production facility. However, an open container from the home of one of the babies tested positive for Cronobacter.

The company has consistently denied responsibility.

“Abbott reviews all complaints and we investigate all complaints that suggest a possible health hazard, in accordance with our complaints handling process. When additional information about a complaint is received, we conduct additional investigation as warranted,” the company told Food Safety News.

“Based on available information, there is no causal relationship between Abbott’s products and the reported deaths.

“Abbott conducts microbiological testing on products prior to distribution and no Abbott formula distributed to consumers tested positive for Cronobacter sakazakii or Salmonella. All retained product tested by Abbott and the FDA during the inspection of the facility came back negative for Cronobacter sakazakii and/or Salmonella. No Salmonella was found at the Sturgis facility.”