Baby formula options expanded for WIC recipients after recall

Low-income Detroiters can use Women, Infants, and Children benefits to purchase more types of baby formula after the top supplier pulled its products from store shelves. 

Abbott Nutrition recalled several major brands of powdered baby formula and closed a factory in West Michigan after federal officials found four babies suffered bacterial infections, two of which were fatal, after consuming formula from the facility. Abbott is the top producer of baby formula in the U.S., so the February recall caused a massive disruption to the available supply. In response, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services expanded options for families who use WIC or food stamps programs to feed their infants. 

MDHHS published an online chart showing which products can be purchased using monthly benefits “until further notice.” Calls to the state’s WIC office were not returned on Friday. 

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Detroiters who had purchased the recalled formula through WIC should not throw the formula out. Instead, families can seek a refund at the store where the formula was purchased, or by calling Abbott at (800) 986-8540. Refunds can also be requested online, though this requires families to send the formula back through the mail, and the refund could take several weeks. 

WIC is a federally-funded program serving low and moderate income families who are at risk of nutritional deficiencies. About half of infant formula nationwide is purchased by participants using WIC benefits, according to the White House. 

One out of every two babies born in Michigan receives WIC benefits, according to MDHHS. State data shows there were 200,000 recipients in March, including 21,500 in Detroit.

Baby formula shortages are expected to hit harder for Black families, who are statistically more likely to depend on powdered forumla to feed their infant than other groups.

An estimated three quarters (76%) of Black babies are breastfed in infancy, below the national average of 84%, according to the CDC. One in five Black infants are given formula within the first two days of life. 

Less than half of all Michigan mothers are exclusively breastfeeding through the first three months of their child’s life, and only a quarter are exclusively breastfeeding through six months.

Health officials discourage parents from buying formula through social media websites. Homemade formula is also strongly discouraged by the FDA, as it might not be safe or meet a baby’s nutritional needs. Parents should not feed cow’s milk or other milk substitutes found in grocery stores to infants under 12 months. 

Click here to see a list of WIC locations in Detroit. Services are available in English, Spanish, Arabic, Chaldean and Bengali. MDHHS also offers a mobile app to share information with WIC clients. 

Liquid concentrate and ready-to-feed formulas were not affected by the recall, but might be difficult to find in a store.

The CDC closed its investigation of Abbott products on Thursday and found no additional cases of illness. 

None of the reported illnesses were in Michigan. However, the FDA advises families to contact their health care provider immediately if an infant begins experiencing poor feeding, irritability, temperature changes, jaundice, grunting breaths, or abnormal body movements. 

Families can find out if their powdered formula is part of the recall by visiting this website or checking the code on the bottom of the can. The product has been recalled if the following three things are true:

  • The first two digits of the code are 22 through 37, 
  • The code on the container contains K8, SH, or Z2
  • The expiration date is April 1, 2022, or later.



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