New parents are finding increasingly empty store shelves when searching for powdered baby formula at Erie-area grocery stores.
An ongoing shortage, which intensified earlier this spring after the recall of certain formulas made by Abbott Nutrition, has reached northwestern Pennsylvania. A check of local stores showed that cans of formula, especially specialty types like low lactose and gluten-free, are nearly impossible to find.
"Ongoing supply chain challenges coupled with a recent recall has caused supply constraints to baby formula across all retailers," said Wegmans spokeswoman Tracy Van Aucker. "While we may not have every brand or variety available, we continue to receive shipments of baby formula to our stores on a regular basis. We will continue working hard to ensure we have product available for our customers in this category."
Wegmans appeared to be one of the stores most heavily affected. Few cans of formula were available Thursday afternoon at its Peach Street location and customers were limited to a maximum of four cans, according to a display sign.
Limits were also in place Thursday at the upper Peach Street Walmart (five cans), where the shelves were also more than three-quarters empty. There were single-serving bottles of formula available and a few smaller cans.
The shortages weren't as apparent Thursday at the Giant Eagle on Interchange Road, where the shelves were about one-third filled, and at Tops Market on West 26th Street, where a small display was about half-filled with formula and the store limited customers to six cans maximum.
"Tops stores have been impacted by the recent nationwide baby formula recalls. As a result, Tops has put limits on formula so that all customers are able to have access to available inventory," said Kathleen Sautter, Tops Markets spokeswoman. "Our Tippy Toes label of baby formula has been available and unaffected by the recall. We have posted information in store to assist parents in knowing which item is equivalent to the recalled items so they are able to purchase an acceptable alternative."
Adagio Health, which operates medical clinics across western Pennsylvania, said it continues to have an adequate supply of baby formula.
It provides formula at its Erie and Edinboro offices for Adagio Health patients who test positive for food insecurity, and operates larger Special Supplemental Nutrition Programs for Women, Infants, and Children in other locations.
"We are doing everything we can to help our moms get the formula they need," said Alicia Schisler, chief of external affairs for Adagio Health. "We operate WIC offices in some of our southwestern Pennsylvania offices and we are holding steady with formula at this point."
Shortage worsened after Abbott Nutrition recall
Though baby formula, like so many other grocery items, has been impacted by supply-chain issues connected to the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation worsened in February when Abbott Nutrition issued a massive recall of certain types of its Similac, Alimentum and EleCare powdered infant formula.
To learn more about the types of formula recalled, visit fda.gov/consumers/powdered-infant-formula-recall-what-know.
The recall stems from contamination issues at Abbott Nutrition's facility in Sturgis, Michigan, that might have caused bacterial infections in four infants. All four infants had to be hospitalized and the bacterial infection may have contributed to the death of two patients, according to the FDA.
The plant is currently closed.
It took a couple of months for the shortage to affect Erie-area stores but now new parents are visiting multiple locations, searching for their baby's favorite formula.
"It's definitely become an issue. We field calls from parents at least once or twice a day," said Ravi Chekka, M.D., a pediatrician with Saint Vincent Hospital. "The shortage has been evident for the past couple of weeks."
Chekka and the grocery store spokeswomen said there is formula available for those who need it, though it might not be the brand, or specialty type, your baby is used to eating.
One problem is that more parents are convinced to feed their babies specialty formula when regular formula is acceptable and can meet their needs, Chekka said.
"Yes, it might take some time for the baby to adapt, and you might have some spit-ups and colic-like symptoms at first, but most babies are perfectly fine with regular formulas," Chekka said. "Just check with your doctor's office."
Don't make your own baby formula
Parents should avoid making their own baby formula, Chekka said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics said parents should never feed their infant homemade formula. Proper ingredients aren't usually found in grocery stores and it's difficult to follow the standard safety protocols at home.
"They shut down that entire plant because of contamination issues," Chekka said, referring to the Abbott Nutrition plant. "Your kitchen isn't as sterile as these plants."
Here are a few things parents can do to make sure their babies have enough formula during this shortage:
Check manufacturer websites and online sellers.
Talk with your pediatrician.
Add solid foods to your baby's diet if the child is older than six months.
Try breastmilk if available.
If you do purchase baby formula online, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro cautioned in a consumer alert posted Friday that you make sure it's from a trusted source.
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USA TODAY contributed to this story.
This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Baby formula shortage reaches Erie-area stores following recall