Lack of infant formula strains families, forcing retailers to limit their purchases

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A growing shortage of infant formula has prompted retailers like Target and Walmart to limit their purchases, leaving parents to take several trips only to face empty shelves in the wake of a recent recall from Abbott Laboratories.

In February, Abbott recalled powder formula made at a Michigan plant after several babies became ill with bacterial infections and two died, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The recall exacerbated existing inventory problems due to supply chain spin and lack of ingredients caused by the pandemic. Now families in some parts of the country are having a hard time finding a formula.

“We know this recall has further exacerbated a shortage of infant formula throughout the industry. We are doing everything we can to address it,” Abbott told The Washington Post in a statement, including increasing production of Similac, air freight of products from Europe and work with healthcare providers to identify alternative formulas.

Walgreens and CVS both limit formula purchases to three per transaction online or in stores, companies said, while Target said it limits online formula purchases to four units per transaction. Costco representatives declined to comment, but a two-pack for a brand sold on their website was limited to two per. order.

“Due to increased demand and various supplier challenges, infant and toddler replacements are experiencing constraints across the country,” Scott Goldberg, director of corporate communications at Walgreens Boots Alliance, said in an email. “Like other retailers, we introduced purchase limits of three per transaction on all infant and toddler infant formulas to help improve inventory. We continue to work diligently with our supplier partners to best meet customer requirements.”

Walmart and Kroger also rationed some formula purchases from Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported. About 31 percent of the formula products were sold out nationwide in the week of April 3, according to data from Datasembly, a retail software company.

What started as a spotty shortage in 2021 has grown into a nationwide problem, according to Neil Saunders, CEO of GlobalData Retail in New York.

“Baby milk substitutes are still available in some stores, but the supply is very scattered and sold-out stocks are emerging very quickly,” Saunders said in an email. “Unfortunately, shortages encourage some people to buy in bulk and hoard, which further contributes to availability issues. That’s why some retailers have introduced volume restrictions.”

Consumers have to “shop around” for formula, said Saunders, who searches multiple locations and routinely encounters empty shelves and sold-out messages online.

Since this is an “essential product,” Saunders added. “There is great concern among parents.”

Emily Pyeatt, 22, recently went to eight stores in search of formula for her 8-month-old. Ever since the recall forced her to switch brands, she has burned increasing amounts of time and gasoline trying to track down formula.

“This is the most frightening thing I have ever experienced,” she subsequently wrote on Facebook. “How are we going to feed our kids when there is NO formula on the shelves !?”

Right up to her last three cans, Pyeatt said she has given her son more solid food to help the formula last longer. Store managers who tried to be helpful have suggested that she breastfeed or switch to whole milk or other alternatives that are not safe for an infant her son’s age. She would breastfeed if she could, she said, but like many women, she struggled to produce enough.

“It was a very heartbreaking decision to stop, and I think it’s outrageous for someone to say that,” Pyeatt said. “I pray for the women who have babies who are not old enough for solid food.”

The shortage places a financial burden on families at a time when households are already struggling with the highest inflation rise in four decades. Baby substitutes, the only viable substitute for breast milk, are expensive, with the average price for popular brands far exceeding $ 1,000 in the infant’s first year, according to the U.S. Surgeon General.

“When parents navigate the extraordinary stress of this recall, we are particularly concerned about risky practices that could jeopardize an infant’s growth and development,” Brian Dittmeier, senior director of public policy at the National WIC Association, said in an email. .

Before changing formulas, parents should consult their child’s health care provider. Diluting infant formula, low infant formula at home, or replacing cow’s milk with breast milk is “not nutritionally comparable to breast milk or infant formula,” Dittmeier warned, and could cause nutrient deficiencies that can have a “pronounced effect on an infant’s growth and development.”

Parents struggling to find formula can contact their local WIC agencies and food banks for help finding it in their community, Dittmeier said. But tools to track availability have not worked well in recent weeks, and “the ripple effects of the shortage across manufacturers and state lines” are likely to continue to weigh on families in the near future.

“This lack of formula is so scary [can’t] find min [son’s] milk anywhere, ”Danielle Arzola, 27, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

When Arzola tried to change formula brand due to the deficiency, her 6 month old became ill. Now she finds herself driving around town and even buying formula from people in other states to find the brand he does better with.

“I have enough to keep him out for a week or two, but in the meantime I’m still looking,” she told The Post.

The recall from February applies to certain formulas below Similac, Alimentum and EleCare labels, where the first two digits of the container code are 22 or 37; the code contains K8, SH or Z2; and has an expiration date of April 1 or later. Packages that do not meet all of these conditions are not affected, according to the company and the FDA.

The affected products have already been picked up from the shelves, but if you are concerned that you may have purchased them before then, search for the lot number on the formula container on Abbott’s website.

Reports of illness linked to the bad batches of formula surfaced five months before the recall began, according to a letter sent last week to the FDA by Sens. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) And Sherrod Brown (D-. Ohio).

“For almost half a year, potentially contaminated product remained on store shelves and in feeding bottles, exposing unsuspecting families to an unacceptable risk,” the senators wrote, adding that “the prospect of finding a new formula as a result of the recall has been a logistical one. financial and emotional burden for families throughout the United States “

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