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Baby formula shortage: What not to do, according to a former FDA official

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Caregivers are scrambling to find baby formula amid the nationwide shortage as supply chain issues, product recalls, and stockpiling have left store shelves empty.

Nationally, 43% of baby formula was out of stock as of the first week of May, according to data compiled by Datasembly, which tracks baby formula supply in real time from over 155,000 stores. That’s up from 30% at the start of April and 11% in November.

Peter Pitts, former associate commissioner at the FDA, offered several pieces of advice to navigate the ongoing crisis.

“Don’t dilute baby formula," Pitts said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). "It’s bad for the baby. You shouldn't give a baby that’s on formula whole milk. That's a horrible place to go."

A cellphone photo shows a woman shopping baby formula at a Walmart store in Rosemead, California, the United States, May 13, 2022. (Photo by Zeng Hui/Xinhua via Getty Images)
A cellphone photo shows a woman shopping baby formula at a Walmart store in Rosemead, California, the United States, May 13, 2022. (Photo by Zeng Hui/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Additionally, he said, "don't go online. People are online selling products that they report to be legitimate — maybe they are, maybe they are not, maybe they’re expired, maybe they’re counterfeit, but you don’t want to play Russian roulette with your baby’s health.”

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is urging caregivers to be aware of online scammers capitalizing on parents desperate to find the essential product. “With the current supply issues on many items, including formula, scammers are watching,” the Bureau noted. The BBB pointed to a scam online and on social media sites, where the seller asks a buyer to pay for formula through a peer-to-peer platform such as Venmo, but after the buyer makes the payment, the product never arrives.

Pitts also stated that parents shouldn't try to make their own baby formula, as "it's complicated chemistry" that can't be done at home.

His advice is for parents to talk to their pediatricians about finding the best solution for their babies.

Earlier this week, the FDA reached an agreement with Abbott (ABT) on steps necessary to resume production at its Sturgis, Michigan infant formula plant. Abbott estimates production at the plant could resume two weeks after FDA approval and take up to eight weeks for the product to hit store shelves. FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf gave a similar timeframe earlier this week, estimating supply will improve “in the next couple of months.”

Shelves for baby formula are partially empty, as the quantity a shopper can buy is limited amid continuing nationwide shortages, in Medford, Massachusetts, May 17, 2022. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Shelves for baby formula are partially empty, as the quantity a shopper can buy is limited amid continuing nationwide shortages, in Medford, Massachusetts, May 17, 2022. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

To help address the crisis, the federal government, including the FDA, is taking steps to boost supplies. Those efforts include looking abroad for product that meets regulatory requirements, easing import rules and cutting red tape to increase the speed and scale of domestic production.

"And if you can't find product on shelves, a lot of churches and synagogues and community groups are putting together parents' groups to share product," Pitts said. "Don't hoard. Share. We have to be good partners, good citizens to get us through the current shortages. And we'll get there... but don't panic."

Seana Smith anchors Yahoo Finance Live’s 3-5 p.m. ET program. Follow her on Twitter @SeanaNSmith

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