WASHINGTON — U.S. regulators have historically inspected baby formula plants at least once a year, but they did not inspect any of the three biggest manufacturers in 2020, according to federal records reviewed by The Associated Press.
When they finally did get inside an Abbott Nutrition formula plant in Michigan after a two-year gap, they found standing water and lax sanitation procedures. But inspectors offered only voluntary suggestions for fixing the problems, and issued no formal warning.
Inspectors would return five months later after four infants who consumed powdered formula from the plant suffered bacterial infections. They found bacterial contamination inside the factory, leading to a four-month shutdown and turning a festering supply shortage into a full-blown crisis that sent parents scrambling to find formula and forced the U.S. to airlift products from overseas.
The gap in baby formula plant inspections, brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, is getting new scrutiny from Congress and government watchdogs investigating the series of missteps that led to the crisis. A recent bill would require the Food and Drug Administration to inspect infant formula facilities every six months. And the government’s inspector general for health has launched an inquiry into the FDA’s handling of Abbott’s facility, the largest in the U.S.
Abbott resumed production at the plant early this month under a legally binding agreement with the FDA, but the shutdown and nationwide shortage exposed how concentrated the industry has become in the U.S., with a handful of companies accounting for roughly 90% of the market.
As COVID-19 swept across the U.S. in early 2020, the FDA pulled most of its safety inspectors from the field, skipping thousands of routine plant inspections.
The FDA did conduct more than 800 “mission critical” inspections during …read more
Source:: Time – Business