US authorities are investigating reports of illness among infants who consumed powdered baby formula produced at Michigan facility operated by Abbott Nutrition, following a widespread recall and the deaths of at least two children.
On 17 February Abbott Nutrition voluntarily recalled three of its formula products: Similac, Alimentum and EleCare.
The company further recalled another round of Similac PM 60/40 from the same Michigan facility on Monday following the death of an infant, the second since September.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the agencies conducting the investigation, have urged parents to avoid feeding their baby the recalled products.
The second infant who died tested positive for Cronobacter sakazakii, a bacterium that can cause sepsis or meningitis in infants. According to the CDC, the disease is often associated with the consumption of infant formula – which is not sterile – and can be found in samples contaminated in factories as well as those that are opened after purchase.
Abbott Nutrition said in a statement issued on 17 February that it had conducted routine testing for Cronobacter sakazakii and Salmonella newport in its facilities, and while they did find the former in “non-product contact areas” of the Michigan facility, none of their distributed product tested positive for either bacterium.
The initial recall of the three Abbott brands alarmed many families, as some of the products are specifically designed for children who have deadly food allergies or those with lactose sensitivity, and strictly rely on the formula. One mother told CNN that the recall has made it “literally a life-or-death thing” for her nearly four-year-old daughter who has a bowel condition.
Three days after the initial recall, two Florida parents filed a class-action lawsuit against the company for allegedly putting their infants in harm’s way by producing “toxic baby formula products”. A representative of Abbott Nutrition acknowledged receipt of the complaint and told NPR they were reviewing it.
The lawsuit further accuses the firm of using “misleading” practices to promote their products, claims that echoed those in a recent global report that found infant formula is often promoted in an “aggressive” and “misleading” ways across the world, according to the World Health Organization and Unicef.
On Friday, before the second recall, Senators Patty Murray and Bob Casey sent a letter addressed to Abbott’s CEO, Robert B Ford, demanding to know about the recall and seek “all internal documents and communications” with regard to the issue, according to the 19th.
“No parent should have to worry that the formula they feed to their infant or child may be contaminated,” Casey told the 19th. “Chair Murray and I are pressing Abbott for answers because parents, caregivers and babies deserve better.”
They gave the company a deadline of 10 March to respond to their query.
In an updated statement shared on Monday, Abbott Nutrition reiterated that none of the distributed products tested positive for the bacterium. “This case is under investigation, and at this time the cause of the infant’s Cronobacter sakazakii infection has not been determined,” the company added. “We want to extend our heartfelt sympathies to the family.”