Baby formula recall leaves Upper Valley families scrambling

  • Shavon Farley looks over the ingredients of the Similac baby formula she purchased after hearing last Friday of a recall on three major baby formula brands to find differences with the formula she usually feeds her son Rowan Palmer, 4 months, at her home in Lebanon on Tuesday. Farley was happy to find the last two containers of a similarly formulated product in stock at the Walmart in West Lebanon.

  • Rowan Palmer, 4 months, looks toward his bottle after being fed by his mother, Shavon Farley, at home in Lebanon on Tuesday. Even before a recall on baby formula that began last week, Farley had gone as far as Concord to find the product her son tolerated best after trying three versions of Similac baby formula. James M. Patterson photos / Valley News

  • Shavon Farley, of Lebanon, calms her son Rowan Palmer's crying after feeding him a bottle of formula at home in Lebanon, N.H., on Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Valley News
Published: 2/23/2022 6:47:05 PM
Modified: 2/23/2022 6:46:42 PM

Shavon Farley’s infant son, Rowan Palmer, had been drinking Similac Total Comfort formula for about seven days before it was recalled last week.

It was the third kind of formula they had tried in an effort to alleviate gastrointestinal symptoms 4-month-old Rowan previously had when he drank other types of Similac, the brand Farley said she could buy with her benefits through the USDA Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, also known as WIC.

The Total Comfort formula includes a partially broken-down protein to aid digestion. In the week he was on it, Rowan was like a “totally different kid,” said Farley, a 34-year-old Lebanon resident. Rowan was having regular bowel movements and wasn’t spitting up, she said.

Then on Thursday, just as it seemed the family’s feeding challenges might be over, Abbott, the company that makes Similac, issued a recall for some lots of powdered formula, including Similac, Alimentum and EleCare. The recall, which Farley learned about on Friday, left her and other parents scrambling to find replacements. The recall comes as baby formula was already in short supply.

“Everything we had was recalled,” Farley said.

Abbott issued the recall following an investigation by the Food and Drug Administration, which found Cronobacter sakazakii, a germ that can cause infection in infants, in samples taken in Abbott’s manufacturing facility in Sturgis, Mich. The FDA’s investigation, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health agencies, stems from four consumer complaints of Cronobacter and salmonella Newport infections in infants who consumed powdered formula.

In all four cases, the babies were hospitalized. In one case involving Cronobacter, the baby died. No related illnesses have been reported in New Hampshire or Vermont, according to the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services and the Vermont Department of Health.

Kaitlyn Brown, a 27-year-old Springfield, Vt., resident, first learned of the recall Friday evening. Like Rowan, Brown’s 7-week-old daughter, Freya, was on Similac Total Comfort in an effort to reduce her gastrointestinal discomfort.

After learning of the recall, Brown entered the lot numbers of the cans she had on hand into Abbott’s website. Everything she had, three cans — or 2½ weeks’ worth — was subject to the recall. She went out to her nearby Shaw’s and bought a can of Enfamil, which she hoped would be similar. She had coupons, but the shelf price was $33 for a 19.5-ounce can, she said. That can lasted just three days. They had to buy another out of pocket.

Through WIC, the family typically gets $170 per month for nine cans of formula, or $18.99 per 12.6-ounce can, Brown said.

Brown said switching formulas abruptly interrupts her efforts to sort out whether Freya has an allergy and what it might be. Her pediatrician wants to see consistent symptoms over a period of time. This change “restarts that clock,” Brown said.

Since the change, Brown said Freya has been crankier and fussier than usual. She has been drinking less formula at a time, but more often than usual.

On Monday, Brown tried calling WIC-approved grocery stores from Keene, N.H., to Lebanon to find Similac that hadn’t been recalled.

“It feels almost like the toilet paper issues at the beginning of the pandemic,” Brown said on Tuesday. “We have not been able to find any Similac Total Comfort anywhere; with no stores as of yesterday knowing when it will be back in.”

Brown and Farley said formula could be hard to find even before this recall. Brown said she often had to go to multiple stores to get the nine cans WIC pays for each month. With the recall, the challenge has grown.

“Most of the time Shaw’s in Springfield doesn’t have any on the shelves,” Brown said. “Some of the time Shaw’s will have some behind the counter. Other times they’re just waiting on the supplier.”

Grocery stores are trying to restock. Shaw’s is still ordering and stocking shelves with liquid and other types of baby formula that were not included in the recent Abbott recall, said Teresa Edington, a Shaw’s spokeswoman.

“While we are working diligently to ensure our customers have this very important product, we recommend reaching out to your local store for information on current product availability,” she said.

On Friday evening and Saturday morning, Farley scoured the Upper Valley for something else to feed Rowan. She eventually located, at the Walmart in West Lebanon, two big cans of Pro-Total Comfort, which she said is similar to Total Comfort. They were the last two cans on the shelf. She said she hopes it will last them two weeks.

She said she plans to start calling stores again on Thursday or Friday.

“Hopefully they’ll get it soon,” she said.

Families can find out if their formula has been recalled by visiting the Abbott website (similacrecall.com) or calling 1-800-986-8540. Recalled products should be thrown out or returned.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.


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