Infant Formula Crisis & 10 Things Parents Can Do to Feed Their Baby Safely

Updated: 7 hours ago

Baby yawning next to a teddy bear
Powdered infant formula is always at risk of contamination

February 2022 Formula Recalled After Infant Deaths

February 2022 was the most recent infant formula recall due to pathogenic contamination. Abbott recalled several of their Similac powdered formulas due to a link to Cronobacter sakazakii. Sadly, at least four infants became ill, and so far two infant deaths have been reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).

Although the recall was posted publicly on Abbott’s, the CDC’s, and the FDA’s websites, the recalls and deaths received very little media attention. In fact, a month later, several of the mothers I work with knew nothing about the recall until I mentioned it, and they’ve been unknowingly feeding their babies formula that has been recalled and potentially contaminated.

Marion Nestle makes a good point in her Food Politics blog- why isn't this in the media more?

Formula Shortage

It's only now that parents are facing a severe formula shortage- an issue with many products that affect all populations - that the media has taken hold of the story and started to bring attention to it. During the week of May 8, 2022, we saw local and national TV news stations, The New York Times, and social media ablaze with stories about the formula shortage.

Is it because the general population is getting fed up with inflation and supply chain issues that the formula crisis has finally made its way into the headlines?

As parents are getting desperate to feed their infants, there are vital warnings they should be aware of and avoid doing to prevent their baby from having a medical emergency. There are also 10 steps they can start working on now to prevent running out of nourishment for their baby. Jump to Warnings and Steps

Infant Feeding Recommendations

Feeding an infant breastmilk exclusively for the first 6 months of life is recommended by the WHO, UNICEF, USDA and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Then, breastmilk should continue during the introduction of solid foods around 6 months until at least a year old, according to the USDA and the AAP. (WHO recommends providing breastmilk for at least 2 years.)

However, some parents are unable to provide their own breastmilk or donor milk (the next best choice). In those circumstances, formula is recommended for infants.

Pathogens in Powdered Foods

Unfortunately, powdered formula is always at risk of contamination. No powdered food is sterile. This includes not only powdered formula, but also flours, protein powder, starches, herbal teas, and cake mixes.

Although outbreaks of foodborne illness from flours are rare, dry powdered products are at risk of contamination from pathogens such as E. coli, Salmonella, Clostridium botulinum, and Cronobacter sakazakii.

Effects of Contaminated Powdered Foods

Each pathogen can cause different symptoms and illnesses. For instance, Salmonella and E. coli are often associated with cramps, diarrhea, and nausea. In severe cases, hospitalization and even risk of death, especially if the individual is immuno-compromised, are real concerns.

Botulism poisoning can start with blurred vision, slurred speech, drooping eyelids, thick-feeling tongue, shortness of breath, and eventually lead to respiratory failure, paralysis, and death within 18-36 hours of ingesting the tainted food. Read more here on how to prevent botulism when making pesto and other garlic-infused oils at home.

Cronobacter sakazakii poisoning can result in diarrhea, urinary tract infections, sepsis, and meningitis. It’s often deadly in infants. “Typically, CDC is informed of about 2-­4 cases of Cronobacter illness in infants each year, but reporting isn’t required,” the CDC site says.

Signs that parents can look for if they suspect their formula may be part of a recall due to Cronobacter contamination include:

  • Fever

  • Poor feeding

  • Low energy

  • Seizures

Formulas Recalled in February 2022

The following powdered formulas manufactured by Abbott have been recalled:

  • Similac PM 60/40

  • Similac

  • Alimentum

  • Elecare

Parents can check if their baby’s formula is part of the recall by looking at the code and date on the bottom of the container.

Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare powdered formula products recalled on February 17 have all three of these conditions:

1. First two digits of the code are 22 through 37, AND

2. The container contains “K8,” “SH,” or “Z2,” AND

3. Use-by date is 4-1-2022 (APR 2022) or later.

Parents can also type the lot number into the Abbott website here:

What to Do (or Not Do) If You Use Powdered Infant Formula

Here is expert guidance if you use powdered formula:

  1. Never replace breastmilk or FDA-approved formula with a homemade formula. Babies' digestive and immune systems are too immature and can suffer from nutrient deficiencies, water toxicity, allergies, illness, and death.

  2. Never dilute infant formula. Although parents are desperate to stretch their formula in times of uncertainty, by diluting the formula with extra water or adding in milk or another substance, your child is at risk of severe illness, nutrient deficiencies, and even death. Always follow manufacturer's instructions for mixing formula.

  3. Check if the formula has been recalled. If so, stop using it and ask the store or Abbott for a refund or exchange. Contact Abbott's hotline (1-800-986-8540) or website to exchange your formula or ask questions.

  4. Breastfeed or offer pumped breastmilk instead of formula, if possible.

  5. Clean, sanitize, and store feeding supplies safely. This includes baby bottles, nipples, and breast pump parts.

  6. Switch to a different brand of formula. Contact your health care provider for help choosing one.

  7. If your child has a diagnosed condition and needs a special formula, contact your insurance company to find out if the formula is covered by insurance and can be delivered by a home pharmacy. This is very common and you may be surprised to find that your formula is not only covered, but in stock at a pharmacy that can be shipped directly to your home.

  8. Contact your local WIC office to enroll and get assistance with formula or breastfeeding.

  9. Use liquid concentrate formula instead of powdered formula to prevent foodborne illness.

  10. If using powdered formula, heat the water to at least 158°F to kill the pathogens (& cool to body temperature before feeding). Refrigerate it right away if not feeding immediately.

  11. Wash your hands and keep them clean when preparing a bottle and feeding your infant.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has added a new webpage with further explanation on the safety and dangers of feeding your baby something other than breastmilk or formula.

Please share with anyone who has an infant. Email if you have questions about feeding your baby or need resources to help.


Colleen is a Certified Lactation Counselor and now scheduling nutrition appointments with pregnant women and parents of infants. Visit to make an appointment or to learn more tips and recipes.

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