As new dad, my eyebrows raised when I heard about a recent bacteria infection found in Enfamil Premium Newborn formula (which happens to be the formula that we feed our daughter).
Right before Christmas, two babies in Missouri became infected with a bacteria called Cronobacter. One of the babies recovered, but the other baby – who was only 10 days old – died from the infection. Cronobacter has sometimes been found in milk-based powdered baby formula, but it is also a relatively common environmental contaminant. Initial speculation labels 12.5 ounce cans of Enfamil Premium Newborn formula as the culprit.
Because Cronobacter has been previously found in baby formula, these manufacturers routinely test the formula before it leaves the factory. The maker of Enfamil formula, Mead Johnson Nutrition, Inc., has made it abundantly clear through several press statements that they rigorously test for Cronobacter and that the batch of formula in question tested (and re-tested) negative for the bacteria when it left the factory. It is taking the position that because the formula had not been infected in the factory that the infant’s death was not the fault of Mead Johnson, Inc. Because the FDA has not yet issued a general recall, Mead Johnson is not taking any further action at this time.
The infected can of formula that caused the death of the little boy was purchased at a local Wal-Mart in Missouri, and while the FDA and CDC conduct an investigation to identify the source of the Cronobacter infection, Wal-Mart has recalled all Enfamil Premium Newborn formula and pulled the product from all store shelves nationwide “out of an abundance of caution.” Meanwhile, several other retailers who sell the 12.5 ounce cans of Enfamil Premium Newborn formula have followed suit and proactively pulled the product from their shelves until the cause of the infection is identified. The investigation could take up to one week to complete.
Instead of getting out in front of the media maelstrom and pulling its products from the shelves as a precaution, Mead Johnson has taken a defensive stance and denied any responsibility for the death. The resonating message coming from Mead Johnson is that “it’s not our fault.” Sure, they may turn out to not be at fault, but their lack of concern for the consumers from the outset places them in a severely negative light.
On the other hand, the retailers seem to have gotten it right. Even though Wal-Mart may turn out to be at fault, they and the other retailers who have pulled the product off the shelves are taking an overly cautious approach that puts them in a more positive light with consumers. It’ll be curious to see how both Mead Johnson and retailers react as more details come to light about the source of the infection.
For what it’s worth, Mead Johnson did take one line to express their condolences to the grieving family. Their sincerity is almost palpable…