Infant formula maker sued after baby's death

BELLEVILLE, Ill. -- The families of a three babies sickened by a rare bacterial infection, including a 10-day-old Missouri infant who died, filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the Illinois-based manufacturer of a powdered baby formula that they believe is responsible.

The lawsuit contends the babies were sickened by Cronobacter sakazakii bacteria, which has sometimes been associated with tainted powdered infant formula. The suit alleges that the infants fell ill after consuming different kinds of Enfamil-brand powdered baby formula late last year.

However, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control announced in late December they'd found no evidence that four cases of the infection in babies, including the infant from Missouri who died, were related. The federal agencies also determined there was no need to recall the formula.

The lawsuit contends that 10-day-old Avery Cornett died last December in Missouri after being fed Enfamil Premium Newborn powdered formula, and that two infants from Illinois were sickened by other Enfamil formula.

The lawsuit accuses manufacturer Mead Johnson Nutrition Co. of negligence, arguing that since 2000, environmental sampling from the Glenview-based company's facilities revealed harmful bacteria in raw ingredients, premix product and finished products. The lawsuit didn't specify who conducted the sampling.

The lawsuit also alleges that a Mead Johnson executive warned health care workers but not consumers that powered infant formulas should "not be used in neonates or immunocompromised patients in hospital settings."

Mead Johnson spokesman Christopher Perille said the company was aware of the lawsuit.

"We don't routinely comment on active litigation," Perille said. "The lawsuit refers to a batch that was extensively tested by Mead Johnson, as well as the Centers for Disease Control as well as the Food and Drug Administration. All those tests detected no bacteria."

The plaintiffs' St. Louis-based attorney, Andy Crouppen, said in an email that he's aware of those tests, but that based on further investigation, "including Freedom of Information Act requests from the CDC and FDA," he believes the bacteria originated from Mead's newborn food.

The CDC gets roughly four to six reports of Cronobacter sakazakii each year, though there are no legal requirements that cases be reported.

The bacteria is found naturally in the environment and in plants such as wheat and rice, but in the past also has been traced to dried milk and powdered formula. Experts have said there are not adequate methods to completely remove or kill all bacteria that might creep into powdered formula before or during production.