The owner of a key baby formula manufacturing plant said Wednesday it is looking to restart its plant in as little as two weeks — but said it would take between six to eight weeks to get formula products back on store shelves once production gets going again.
The shutdown of the facility, owned by Abbott Laboratories and located in Sturgis, Michigan, has prompted a severe shortage of infant formulas including Similac, Alimentum and EleCare. The plant was shut down in February pending a federal investigation into the deaths of two infants and reports of illnesses among other children who consumed certain baby formula products. The plant remains closed.
In a new statement Wednesday, Abbott said that, subject to Food and Drug Administration approval, it could restart the Sturgis site "within two weeks." But from the time it brings the facility back online, it would take six to eight weeks before product makes it to store shelves, Abbott said.
"We would begin production of EleCare, Alimentum and metabolic formulas first and then begin production of Similac and other formulas," it said.
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As much as 43 percent of normal supplies of formula were out of stock in U.S. grocery stores in the first week of May, according to data from retail research group Datasembly. The shortage has led to calls for Washington to act. In a statement Tuesday, the FDA said it was expediting import documentation from product overseas to get formula in more swiftly, and was also granting case-by-case waivers to allow the sale of "life-sustaining supplies" of specialty and metabolic formulas.
Abbott also said Wednesday there was no evidence linking its formulas to the infants' illnesses. Although at least one pathogen linked to the children's illnesses, Cronobacter sakazakii, was found in environmental testing as part of the FDA's investigation, it was detected in "nonproduct contact areas of the facility and has not been linked to any known infant illness," the agency said.
"In all four cases, the state, the FDA and/or CDC tested samples of the Abbott formula that was used by the child," it said. "In all four cases, all unopened containers tested negative."
Read the full statement from Abbott here.