Relief is on the way for those struggling to find baby formula.
Abbott Nutrition – the makers of Similac and the largest producer of baby formula in the country – has reopened its shut down plant in Michigan over the weekend, after meeting initial requirements set by the Food and Drug Administration.
The company said it will start by ramping up the production of Elecare and other specialty formulas for infants with food allergies.
At this point, the first batches are not expected to hit store shelves for more than two weeks, around June 20.
“We’re also working hard to fulfill the steps necessary to restart production of Similac and other formulas and will do so as soon as we can,” an Abbott spokesperson told NBC News. “We understand the urgent need for formula, and our top priority is getting high-quality, safe formula into the hands of families across America.”
The current baby formula crisis that has been plaguing the nation escalated four months ago when the company’s Michigan plant shut down following an inspection that found a type of bacteria dangerous to babies. It possibly landed some infants in the hospital. This lead to a massive recall of Abbott Nutrition’s formula, exacerbating an already tight market that was impacted by supply chain issues and the pandemic.
According to NBC News, Abbott was allowed to resume production after agreeing to a consent decree with the FDA, stipulating that the Michigan facility must retain an independent expert to review operations and ensure that the company is following the law.
FDA investigators have been on-site at the plant for days overseeing the reopening process.
Over the last several weeks, the makers of other brands like Enfamil have been able to get help from the government to increase production and more formula to shelves.
More flights are also on the way to the United States to bring imported formula from overseas.
Starting June 9, United Airlines will ship 3.7 million bottles of Kendamil formula from London. That formula will become available in Target stores in the coming weeks.
Also on June 9, the U.S. will fly in several shipments from Australia.
This relief can’t come soon enough. Out-of-stock rates for formula now hitting 73% nationwide, according to data on 130,000 stores followed by Datasembly. There are 10 states with out-of-stock rates at 90% or higher, including Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and California.
It has caused parents like Lacy Rash of Corsicana are growing more desperate.
“It makes you mad, it makes you upset. It gives you mom guilt,” she said. “It makes you feel like crap, you can’t feed your baby. You can’t find it.”
What makes her situation even more dire is being a mom to a special needs baby.
One-year-old Elias was born with Down syndrome and other conditions that put him on a feeding tube. He relies on a very specialized formula.
And switching out isn’t an option. When Similac was recalled, doctors moved him to another brand but Elias ended up in the hospital for two weeks because of constipation.
Now that Rash has found the right formula, she’s had to rely on Facebook groups and bartering with medical supply companies just to feed her baby, all while also raising her other older son.
“You’re having to ask people where have Nutramigen is, what stores have it in stock, or order it on Amazon, which is like $200 for like six cans,” she said. “To hear that it’s not a crisis in this country, that we can’t feed children is absurd to me – it just doesn’t make any sense at all.”
Like other parents, Rash has been stocking up on formula as much as possible. She said she’s hopeful that the plant can move quickly on reproduction while also keeping safety in mind in light of the recall and contamination concerns.
“We will ramp production as quickly as we can while meeting all requirements,” an Abbott spokesperson said in a statement to NBC News. “We’re committed to safety and quality and will do everything we can to re-earn the trust parents, caregivers and health care providers have placed in us for 130 years.”