It has been more than one year since the initial crisis pertaining to the baby formula shortage around the nation, and not much has changed. Today, the issue continues to make its impact as parents find themselves walking up and down aisles of empty shelves, looking for the formula they need to feed their infants.
In February of 2022, the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began investigating the Abbott Nutrition plant in Michigan following the death of nine babies who had been given powdered infant formula.
Abbott initiated a recall of certain Similac, Alimentum and EleCare, three popular formulas among parents and their infants.
For months after, the supply of baby formula began to drop at grocery and other retail stores. Parents had to dig through Amazon and Facebook Groups in search of baby formula. More than one year later, the shortage is still being felt.
Hernando County resident Isabella Maria, 20, went as far as Tampa to find baby formula for her infant son during the worst of the crisis. Maria said she did everything she could to find the proper formula prescribed to him — from joining Facebook groups to asking friends to look for formula.
“He’s on Nutramigen which is a hypoallergenic formula from Enfamil, and it’s already hard to find on the normal, so it was bad,” Maria said.
Maria receives the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, known as WIC. This is a federal grant given for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education.
“WIC pays for a certain amount of formula cans a month, but only for formula prescribed. Many times it came out of pocket, and we were low on money for a while,” Maria said. “We had to make sacrifices, and a lot of times we didn’t eat more than a snack a day to keep him fed.”
When the shortage hit, big-box and drug stores began to limit how many cans of formula each consumer could purchase to ration the formula they did get in stock.
“The limitations stores are setting is helping the situation, but I think it needs to be more focused for ages newborn to 5 months as they rely on only formula to nourish themselves and get nutrition and a full belly,” Maria said.
CVS store manager Justin Bryl, 27, said he can see the frustration in his customers as they come in searching for the formula they use. Bryl has seen parents coming in hoping the formula they need will be at this store.
“Customers come in telling me how they’ve looked everywhere for a formula they need and can’t get their hands on,” Bryl said. “I try to help the customers out by doing a store-to-store search of all of our different locations to see if anyone carries the specific formula they need for their children,” Bryl said.
Employees at CVS, Walgreens, Target and Publix say they have not experienced something like this before. Publix employee Emma Ostrought, 19, said there is currently no protocol in place for this. Ostrought and other Publix employees use a mobile app to search for products in stock. The app also tells the employee when the next shipment of certain products is coming in.
“Since we are out of a lot of the formulas we carry, people have come in asking when our next shipment is coming in so they can come back then,” Ostrought said.
Danielle Alicea Brown, 30, is a photographer from Gainesville. She has two children, the youngest coming up on his first birthday. At the worst of the crisis, Alicea Brown said she drove south of where she lives to get her hands on the formula she needed. She was also breastfeeding her baby, but she needed formula for when she was back at work and wasn’t able to breastfeed him.
“While I was working weddings or photo shoots, we relied on formulas. And with it being hard to find, we had to buy a bunch of different formulas we had never used before,” Alicea Brown said. “Luckily he doesn’t have any allergies, but oftentimes babies don’t handle a change in formula too well.”
The CDC and FDA post updates and releases on all of their platforms to keep people in the know. The CDC helpline can help locate the formula people need for their babies.