Production at struggling infant formula factory halted by storm

Bad weather forced Abbott Nutrition to suspend production at a Michigan infant formula plant that had just restarted after being closed for several months, contributing to a national shortage.

Production of Abbott’s EleCare specialty formula has been suspended, but there is enough supply to meet demand until production restarts, the company said. Abbott had prioritized increasing production of the specialty formula for infants with severe food allergies and digestive issues who have few other options for nutrition.

Abbott says he needs to assess the damage and remediate the plant after severe thunderstorms and heavy rain swept through southwest Michigan late Monday. Spokesman Jonathon Hamilton said flooding affected a few areas of the plant, but he declined to provide specific details of the damage.

The storm also brought high winds, hail and power outages to Sturgis, Michigan, where the plant is located. The company expects production and distribution to be delayed for a few weeks due to factory cleanup.

Once restarted, the plant will begin production of EleCare and other specialty formulations. Abbott says it also plans to restart production of its Similac formula as soon as possible.

Abbott originally restarted the plant on June 4 after it had been closed since February due to contamination.

The plant was closed after the Food and Drug Administration began investigating four bacterial infections in infants who consumed powdered formula from the plant. Two of the babies died. The company continues to claim that its products have not been directly linked to infections, which involved different bacterial strains.

FDA inspectors eventually uncovered a slew of violations at the plant, including bacterial contamination, a leaky roof, and lax safety protocols.

Abbott recalled several major infant formula brands in February, including Similac. This reduced supplies that had already been strained by supply chain disruptions and storage during the COVID-19 shutdowns.

The current shortage of infant formula has been most severe for children with allergies, digestive issues and metabolic disorders who rely on specialized formulas. Federal officials said the Abbott plant is the sole source of many of these products, providing nutrition to about 5,000 US babies, according to federal officials.

Abbott is one of only four companies that produce about 90% of the American formula. Hamilton said Abbott produced 8.7 million pounds of infant formula in June, or 95% of what it produced the month before the recall.

He said much of that production was for Similac, and the figure doesn’t include anything from the Sturgis plant.

Federal officials said it could take several more weeks before supplies of the preparations return to normal levels. President Joe Biden’s administration eased import rules for foreign manufacturers, airlifted the formula from Europe and invoked federal emergency rules to prioritize U.S. production.

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