Ashley DiSanto feels exhausted and defeated.
Her third store of the night, she walked the aisles of the North Wales Target in hopes of finding even one can of Similac baby formula for her 9-month-old twin daughters.
“There’s about four small cans of formula and that’s about it. Not the ones I need though. And you can’t buy anything online, it’s all sold out,” said DiSanto during a phone interview Thursday night, as she combed the store.
“I think I’ve given up hope for tonight,” she conceded.
Over the last three months, this has become the daily routine for DiSanto, a Lansdale mom whose infants rely on Similac Pro Advanced baby formula as their primary source of nutrition. Every day, DiSanto said, she spends at least two hours searching for formula — posting and responding to Facebook posts, checking online retailers and driving around to local stores.
“It keeps me awake at night. I dream about it. I wake up in the middle of the night to check if anyone has responded on Facebook about it,” she said.
In mid-February, Abbott Nutrition, the largest infant formula manufacturer, recalled batches of Similac, Alimentum and EleCare formulas made in Sturgis, Michigan. That recall was expanded in late February to include one lot of Similac PM 60/40.
Abbott issued the voluntary recall, as the FDA began investigating consumer complaints of bacterial infections in four infants who consumed powdered infant formula produced in Abbott Nutrition’s facility in Sturgis. All four infants had to be hospitalized and the bacterial infection may have contributed to death in two patients.
The FDA continues to investigate the situation at Abbott and is “working with Abbott on safe resumption of production at the Sturgis, Michigan facility,” it says in a notice about the recall on its website.
“We are aware the recall has created new concerns about the availability of certain types of infant formula, particularly given the overall strains on supply chains experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the FDA. “We will continue discussion with Abbott Nutrition and other infant formula manufacturers and consider all tools available to support the supply of infant formula products.”
In February, DiSanto’s formula was part of that recall.
“Everything I had was all recalled,” said DiSanto. “I was like, ‘What do I feed my kids in the morning?’.”
At first, she said was lucky to find a few cans that weren’t part of the recall, but it has become harder in recent weeks and since May 2, she hasn’t found her formula in any stores at all.
Since then, she’s kept up her supply so far with sample-size cans offered up by people she’s found through Facebook.
“It’s twice the babies, twice the need to feed, and it’s just hard. I can’t believe in 2022 we’re scrounging around for a way to feed our babies,” said DiSanto.
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The recall only helped to exacerbate an already escalating nationwide baby formula shortage, which began in November 2021, when about 11% of popular brands were out of stock, according to data analytics firm Datasembly. As of May 8, 43% of baby formula was sold out at retailers across the U.S. because of recalls and supply chain strains.
CEO of Datasembly Ben Reich stated, “This issue has been compounded by supply chain challenges, product recalls and historic inflation. The category started to see stocking challenges beginning in July 2021, and the situation has continued to worsen into 2022.
With the shortages, major retailers including CVS, Target and Walgreens are limiting the amount of formula shoppers can purchase.
The White House Thursday moved to ease shortages of infant formula, including increasing imports, even as the administration said it didn’t know when consumers would see restocked shelves.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said “it will take them (Abbott, a major manufacturer) some time to get up and running again” to get more infant formula in stores after the company, the nation’s largest manufacturer of baby formula, recalled some product.
“We recognize that this is certainly a challenge for people across the country, something the president is very focused on,” Psaki said. “We’re going to do everything we can to cut red tape and take steps to increase supply on the marketplace.”
“Our message to parents is, we hear you, we want to do everything we can and we’re going to cut every element of red tape to help address this and make it better for you to get formula on the shelves,” Psaki added.
Psaki said hoarding is also leading to empty shelves of the supply.
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Major retailers including CVS, Target and Walgreens are currently limiting the amount of formula shoppers can purchase.
In the meantime, the FDA advises parents and caregivers not to make or feed homemade formula to infants because of serious health and safety concerns.
“The potential problems with homemade formulas include contamination and absence of or inadequate amounts of critical nutrients. These problems are very serious, and the consequences range from severe nutritional imbalances to foodborne illnesses, both of which can be life-threatening,” said the FDA.
The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office offers a word of caution to parents and caregivers who are scouring the internet for formula.
“Scammers love to take advantage of product scarcity and vulnerability. If you’re purchasing baby formula online, be cautious – make sure it’s from a trusted source. And if you believe you’ve been scammed, file a complaint with my office,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro tweeted Friday.
The FDA also warns consumers to avoid buying formula online that comes from outside the U.S., as it has the potential to be counterfeit.
“If your regular formula is not available, contact your child’s health care provider for recommendations on changing feeding practices,” said the FDA.
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