GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program will transition back to its contract for Similac brand formulas next month following a slowdown because of an investigation into the Sturgis Abbott plant.
Michigan’s WIC Director Christina Herring said the state’s contract with Similac is a newer, five-year agreement that went into effect in November of 2021.
“At the time when we switched contracts and Abbott won the bid, we did not have any known information to the program in regards to a recall,” she said.
But in February of 2022, health officials warned not to use three popular powdered infant formulas, including Similac, manufactured at the Abbott plant in Sturgis that investigators had linked to bacterial contamination.
The United States Department of Agriculture provided waivers to WIC programs across the country to address the contamination worries and formula shortage.
Herring said that waiver allowed WIC to include “additional non contractual formula… as well as our contracted formula, which is Similac.”
News 8 confirmed that since the start of the February 2022 investigation into that plant, health officials visited the Sturgis location seven different times last year, which totaled more than 75 days on site as they reviewed food safety protocols.
In a statement released to News 8, an FDA spokesperson said:
“The FDA takes seriously its responsibility to prevent and respond to foodborne illnesses and food contamination events, and ensuring the availability of safe, sole-source nutrition products, like infant formula, is of the utmost importance to the FDA. The agency has made significant progress in the last year in its efforts to ensure nutritious, safe infant formulas (including specialty metabolic formulas) are on store shelves for Americans who rely on these products.”
The FDA said that since the initial recall in February 2022, it has worked to make sure no recalled product was being given to stores and worked with other makers to boost formula production. The FDA said with more options available, the supply chain is strengthening.
“Overall infant formula production year-to-date is similar to 2021 – before the 2022 recall and subsequent extended voluntary closure of the Abbott Nutrition plant in Sturgis, Michigan. The “in-stock rate”, as reported by data provider IRI, hit a low of 67% in July 2022, but is now at 88%, which is about the same as pre-recall levels,” read the spokesperson’s statement.
The year waivers expire at the end of this month. Nationally, all departments will transition back to their respective contracted formulas as of March 1.
“We stay in direct contract with our local agencies to make sure that if any concerns do arise or come up that we are fulfilling those needs,” Herring said.
Michigan’s WIC program vendors and some 230,000 families were notified of the change back to Similac Advance, Similac Total Comfort, Similac Sensitive and Similac Isomil Soy.