Shelves at major retailers that once carried infant formula were often found empty over the weekend as the shortage crisis continued to be unresolved and USDA offered help.
As part of the reported coordinated drive to end the infant formula shortage, USDA urged states to take advantage of flexibilities the department is offering in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, commonly known as WIC, to help families get the safe formula they need.
“We’re acutely aware that the ongoing recall has left many parents and caregivers concerned about access to formula and how they will feed their babies,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Our team is committed to the health and safety of all Americans and is calling on states to act immediately to offer maximum flexibility, information, and support to WIC participants. Meanwhile, USDA will continue the work started in February, working not only within our department but across the federal government, suppliers, and partners to end this infant formula crisis as quickly as possible.”
Since the recall was first announced in February, USDA has been working closely with FDA to ensure program participants and stakeholders have the information they need to keep infants safe. USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) immediately reached out to states to offer support and within days, announced a suite of flexibilities available, such as allowing states to broadly offer alternate sizes, forms, and brands of formula and allowing stores to accept exchanges of formula purchased with WIC benefits.
USDA is also in communication with Abbott, the manufacturer at the center of the recall, with Secretary Vilsack today calling on the company to redouble its efforts to ensure WIC participants have access to safe formulas, especially those who rely on specialty formulas produced by Abbott.
WIC supports the purchase of formula for moms and families of young children. Typically, there are rules about what products families can purchase with WIC benefits and what stores can allow. USDA has been working with states to relax those rules to help deal with the impacts of the shortage.
To date, not all states have adopted all flexibilities. With the letter and ongoing technical assistance efforts, the White House and USDA are strongly urging all states to immediately take advantage of those flexibilities to alleviate burdens across the supply chain and stand ready to assist with their requests.
USDA continues to work closely with WIC agencies as they review and implement these flexibilities, in coordination with their vendors and local offices. USDA also asked WIC agencies to encourage families to exchange their recalled formula, issued reminders about options for returns and exchanges of recalled products, and posted several resources on infant formula safety including guidance for parents and caregivers.
Over the last several months, the federal government claims to have worked round the clock to address the production shortfall brought about by the recall. As a result of ongoing work, more infant formula has been produced in the last four weeks than in the four weeks that preceded the recall, despite one of the largest infant formula production facilities in the country being offline during that time.
Meanwhile, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service Administrator Cindy Long offered the following as general advice for those searching for in-stock infant formula to ensure safety:
- Learn more about choosing an infant formula that’s safe for your baby.
- Do not feed your baby cow’s milk or other non-dairy milk until 1 year old, unless you’ve talked to your child’s pediatrician.
- Don’t make homemade infant formula or water down formula; there are serious health and safety concerns.
- Do not buy formula online that comes from outside the U.S., which could be counterfeit, have a fake label, or have wrong use-by date.
- Prepare and store infant formula according to the manufacturer’s instructions; do not water down the formula.
- Properly clean, sanitize and store infant feeding items.
- Always wash your hands when handling formula and feeding items.
- Talk to your pediatrician about introducing complementary foods by 6 months (no earlier than 4 months). Visit MyPlate to learn more.
Long says only medical professionals are qualified to provide advice on acceptable alternatives to formulas that may currently be difficult to find. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers tips for parents and caregivers who are struggling to find baby formula during the shortage. Please talk with your pediatrician about safe and appropriate feeding alternatives for your child if needed.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)