USA – Abbott Laboratories, an American medical device and healthcare company that is the leading player in the infant nutrition sector in the U.S, is under investigation by the US Department of Justice (DOJ)

This investigation by the DOJ is over a plant in Sturgis Michigan that temporarily shut down last year and later reopened under a consent decree with the department’s civil unit.

The shutdown followed the deaths of two infants reported to have consumed infant formula produced at Abbott’s Sturgis plant that was contaminated with Cronobacter sakazakii, a bacteria that causes blood infections and meningitis in infants.

“The DOJ has informed us of its investigation, and we’re cooperating fully,” Scott Stoffel, Abbott’s Vice president of external communications, stated in an email to The Wall Street Journal.

Abbott produces Similac, the most popular infant formula brand in the U.S. and after the Sturgis facility closed last year, there was a countrywide shortage of infant formula.

The facility shut down after the FDA launched an investigation on the Similac brand and revealed that the formula samples were indeed adulterated with Cronobacter sakazakii and Salmonella Newport.

This prompted the country to begin Operation Fly Formula which saw the nation importing infant formula to meet consumer demand.

To control the supply shortfall of infant formula in the US, Abbott shipped formula powder from a facility in London and imported other products from another facility in Spain.

 The company also prioritised formula production at its Ohio facility, increased production of powdered formula from another of its manufacturing facilities in Arizona and converted its other liquid manufacturing sites into sites that produced liquid Similac.

These efforts, however, did not stop the sales from their pediatric units to plummet by 31.7%  for the first nine months of 2022.

The sturgis facility reopened two weeks after shutting down but later in June 2022, the FDA reopened its investigation when another infant died reportedly after consuming formula produced in the plant.

Several lawsuits have been filed against the company since then, following the hospitalisations and deaths linked to the company’s infant formula, and now the DOJ has launched its own investigation regarding the matter.

The contamination problems are however not limited to infant nutrition. Barry Callebaut, a producer of chocolate and cacao producer, was recently forced to stop production in its Belgium plant last year after the discovery of salmonella in their products.

Kerry, the Ireland-headquartered public food company, also recently revealed that modern food supply chains are highly susceptible to adulteration and contamination.

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