FDA and Baby Formula: A Non-Event

Abbott recently recalled some ready-to-mix infant formula due to possible contamination  from a common beetle that was found in the facility of one manufacturer responsible for preparing and packaging certain Similac-brand products.

Lots of people are very upset about this.  I’d be disturbed to learn that my baby might’ve eaten crunched bug legs.  The gross-out factor of “my baby just ate bug guts” is very high.

I don’t mean to apologize for Abbott or FDA, but I do want to add some industry-insider information to the slew of information and misinformation available on the Net.

First, this recall was voluntarily performed by Abbott.  FDA neither required nor requested the recall.  FDA did not fall down on the job of making sure that food for our babies is 100% safe.  In fact, infant formula is regulated very strictly, even moreso than other pharmaceuticals.  The reason for this strict regulation is that babies have no control over what they’re given to eat by their parents, and they have no options for other sources of food besides the formula given to them by their parents and caregivers.  As such, the most rigorous standards are in place, and beside the regulations, there is the not-inconsiderable factor of human compassion.  No one, not even a greedy capitalist, wants to hurt little babies.

Say what you want about motives, but babies grow up to be consumers, and sick or dead kids don’t spend disposable income later in life.

Second, Abbott is a pharmaceutical company before anything else.  I’ve purchased top-shelf equipment from them for use in the places that I’ve worked.  I’ve toured their facilities and met their people, and never have I ever had the slightest misgivings about any of their operations.  See, Abbott has to release their study publications and information for public and peer review if they are to be accepted in the scientific/medical community, and as such, any equipment, processes, and procedures must be 100% modern, state-of-the-art or the work performed at Abbott will be judged invalid by those same communities they seek to impress.

Third, I currently consult for a company that manufactures food products for Abbott.  Abbott visits this plant on a monthly basis for audits in order to ensure that the products they buy meet the very rigorous quality standards that are required by their scientific and academic pursuits.  If *anything* is out of order, the reps from Abbott who visit my facility have the power to halt any process for which those requirements are not met, up to and including the suspension of our status as an approved co-manufacturer.

I don’t pretend to have all the details with regard to the Similac situation, but here’s a practical analysis, based on the above.

1 – They don’t actually know if bugs are in the finished product, but they were located in the plant that produces said product.

2 – The publicity from an infestation, particularly after the debacle faced by PCA after the salmonella outbreak in peanut butter back in 2008/09 can be ruinous in the short term.

3 – Based on the possibility of contamination of finished product due to infestation of common pests, and the quandary of affecting infants, it was safer and less costly to initiate a voluntary recall than it would have been to ignore the problem.

Finally, let’s all remember that it is ridiculously difficult to cause harm to a human based on isolated consumption of biological parts of other creatures.  Our bodies are meant to run on practically anything, and they do exactly that.  You can eat paper, bugs, leather, and all sorts of things and surprisingly, you won’t die.  Even little babies are pretty tough like that.  Before you freak out about this recall, remember that if humans weren’t so tough, chances are you wouldn’t be reading this.  Something you ate would have killed you by now.


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