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Abbott was reportedly warned of problems at its baby formula factory months earlier than previously known

June 9, 2022, 1:22 PM UTC

An employee at Abbott Laboratories alerted the company to problems at its baby formula plant in Sturgis, Mich., months earlier than previously known, the Wall Street Journal reports.

According to documents seen by the WSJ, a complaint was filed under the U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s whistleblower-protection program by a former Abbott employee in February 2021.

The complaint gave details about an alleged string of shortcomings at the company’s Sturgis plant—the largest infant formula factory in the U.S.—including failing equipment that needed repair as well as formula that was being sold without sufficient proof it was safe to consume.

A spokesperson for Abbott told Fortune on Thursday that the company had investigated the complaint filed in February 2021 and was not able to confirm the allegations it made.

“Abbott takes employee concerns very seriously and we foster a culture of compliance to produce the best and highest-quality products,” the company said. “We empower our employees to identify and report any issues that could compromise our product safety or quality, which comes before any other considerations.”

Abbott halted production at its Sturgis plant in February 2022, following several reports between September 2021 and February this year of children falling ill or dying after consuming products made at the site.  

The shutdown helped create a nationwide shortage of baby formula that prompted desperate parents to drive for hours looking for supplies, or swap and sell to one another to ensure their children could be fed.

Meanwhile, dangerous recipes for homemade formula went viral.

In May, U.S. President Joe Biden invoked the Defense Production Act to increase production and command Defense Department aircraft to import formula shipments from abroad.

Abbott said Saturday that it had restarted production at its Sturgis plant—but the supply problems created by its monthslong closure are expected to persist into the summer.

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