In response to the infant formula supply crisis in 2022 and the deadly infections that led to it, the FDA has updated its infant formula compliance program.

An outbreak of Cronobacter infections in five infants, two of whom died, started in the fall of 2021 and stretched into early 2022. Abbott Nutrition initiated a recall of Similac infant formula powder and other brands in February 2022. The recall led to a nationwide shortage and left parents driving for hours in search of formula for their babies.

During its investigation, the Food and Drug Administration found Cronobacter contamination in Abbott’s production plant in Sturgis, MI. The agency also discovered that the company had tested product and received positive outcomes for Cronobacter, which Abbott had not reported to the FDA.

In May 2022, after grueling congressional hearings, FDA officials launched an internal investigation that included review of issues raised by a whistleblower complaint. The new compliance program is in response to that investigation. The program covers FDA investigators, laboratory analysts, and compliance officers. 

“The infant formula compliance program is designed to comprehensively outline the agency’s approach for inspections, sample collection, sample analysis, and compliance activities to help ensure that infant formula products in the U.S. food supply are safe and nutritious,” according to a statement from FDA.

“The FDA has now published its updated compliance program, which builds on lessons learned over the last several years to elaborate on our approaches for inspections, sampling, laboratory analysis, and imported infant formula products.”

Going forward, to be in compliance entities must follow updated instructions for annual environmental sampling at powdered infant formula production facilities. Those sampling tests must include Cronobacter and Salmonella. If testing shows either of the pathogens the FDA must be notified. The agency also must be notified if testing shows nutrients that are above or below required levels per the FDA’s infant formula regulation.

The compliance program also includes instructions for how product or environmental positives identified during records reviews should be immediately escalated to the appropriate subject matter expert within the Human Foods Program at the Food and Drug Administration.

Additional background on the risks associated with Salmonella and Cronobacter in infant formula products, and the conditions that could lead to environmental contamination within the manufacturing facilities, is included in the updated compliance program. 

In addition, it further elaborates on new infant formula related requirements that were included in the Food and Drug Omnibus Reform Act of 2022.

All updates related to the FDA’s oversight of infant formula can be found on the FDA’s Infant Formula webpage.

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