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Debris in “Similac” baby formula sparks concern

DHSS Director issues ‘Do Not Purchase’ notice
blue@samoanews.com

Department of Human and Social Services (DHSS) director, Taeaoafua Dr. Meki Solomona issued yesterday a ‘Do Not Purchase’ notice for Similac brand Advance Infant Formula that is approved by the WIC program for newborns and infants.
 
Taeaoafua’s statement was in response to Samoa News queries regarding several mothers complaining the Similac they bought from local stores (using their WIC checks) is tainted with garbage and things that appear to be small bugs.
 
The DHSS director said yesterday that all mothers and caregivers of newborns and infants, who are recipients of the WIC program and receive WIC checks (or food instruments) to purchase WIC-approved infant formula, should NOT purchase one specific lot of Similac Advance Infant Formula with Iron (with or without Early Shield) - Milk-based/Powder 12.4 oz. (352 g) for their babies. 
 
The case lot number covered by this advisory is 33445RE. The number can be found on the bottom of the cans of Similac Advance Infant Formula sold by all WIC authorized retailers in the territory.
 
In making the announcement, Taeaoafua said, “The DHSS is taking this action as a preventive measure because these products may have the potential to be contaminated.” He continued, “Our number one priority at this time is the health and safety of our clients, particularly newborn babies and infants and the best approach to protect our children is to voluntarily place a hold on selling these products to WIC recipients until we receive confirmation from the manufacturer that the product is safe for consumption.” 
 
It is important for those affected by this advisory to note the following:
 
•            When purchasing Similac infant formula, check the bottom of the can for the case lot number. If it says, 33445RE, DO NOT purchase it and immediately report to the ASWIC Office the retailer that is selling it.
 
•            If a recipient already purchased tainted Similac products, bring them to the ASWIC Office in Utulei. The DHSS Vendor Management team will assist all recipients in getting their tainted cans replaced. Otherwise, the WIC caseworkers (certifiers) will offer a temporary replacement using Enfamil ProSobee. The Nutrition Education staff will be on hand to assist with any questions regarding the transition from Similac to Enfamil ProSobee.
 
•            If a recipient already received a WIC check for Similac infant formula and would like to replace it with Enfamil ProSobee, they are asked to contact the ASWIC Office immediately.
 
•            Finally, it is important to know that there is a very limited supply of Enfamil ProSobee on island so DHSS may not be able to serve as many clients wishing to temporarily switch from Similac to Enfamil ProSobee.
 
At this time, the local distributor for Abbott Laboratories is putting together a sample box of the infant formula in question to be sent out tonight for laboratory analysis by Abbott’s Quality Control Department. When that’s completed, they will inform DHSS if the product is safe for consumption or if they will voluntarily recall this one specific lot.
 
The DHSS will issue another announcement once they hear from Abbott Laboratories.
 
BACKGROUND
 
Samoa News contacted DHSS last week to inquire about the alleged tainted formula. Several mothers had complained they found bugs and other garbage in the cans of Similac they bought using their WIC checks.
 
According to DHSS, they first received a report on Nov. 20, 2013 from a WIC recipient who purchased 5 cans of Similac infant formula and found, in all 5 cans, “tiny, light brown and/or orange colored particles” that did not dissolve when the formula was mixed.  The recipient referred the complaint with samples to the Department of Health for lab testing. 
 
Upon receiving the report, the WIC Program staff documented and took photos of the samples, in addition to contacting the WIC retailer to inform them of the problem and getting them to replace the tainted cans for the recipient.
 
DHSS then informed the local Similac distributor of the complaint and asked them to immediately notify the manufacturer for guidance on the next step.
 
DHSS’s Vendor Management team visited authorized WIC stores to identify if the products on their shelves contained the same particles. In all WIC stores visited by the VM team, they found Similac products containing the same substance, all of which are from case lot number 33445RE.
 
DHSS then advised all WIC retailers NOT to sell Similac infant formula from case lot 33445RE until further notice.
 
They also informed, and continue to inform, all mothers of newborns and infants of the situation and advised them to immediately open all cans of Similac infant formula they purchase to check for anything unusual like brown/orange particles.
 
DHSS followed up with DOH to find out the status of their investigation and the test result of the sample product.
 
“After several consultations, we were informed that the DOH does not have the facility or the capacity to analyze the samples that they were given,” Taeaoafua said.
 
He added that they have informed their federal grantor, the WIC Western Region Office with the U. S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service and the lead person for the infant formula contract for all Western State WIC Agencies (that includes American Samoa) of “this critical issue and asked for their assistance and guidance.”
 
“Reaching out to our Federal and State partners has been very helpful in pushing this matter with the manufacturer and in obtaining invaluable guidance on the next steps that we need to take,” Taeaoafua said.
 
Meanwhile, DHSS continues to work closely with the local distributor and the staff from Abbott Laboratories to make sure that the samples from American Samoa are quickly analyzed in order to identify and determine if the product in question is safe for consumption. 
 
“We will also work closely with the manufacturer and our Federal and State partners to explore a temporary solution in the event of a shortage of Similac infant formula as a result of this situation,” Taeaoafua added.
 
The DHSS Director assures the people of American Samoa, particularly recipients of the WIC Program that DHSS is doing everything to protect the health and safety of all recipients. 
 
He concluded, “We appreciate the invaluable assistance provided by our federal partners in the Western Region Office and state partners from the Washington State Department of Health as well as the help provided by staff members from Aveina Brothers and Abbott Laboratories. We look forward to resolving this matter soon to ensure that there is no serious interruption in services for our population”.
 
More information can be obtained by contacting Tanya White Atofau or Siniva Faiai Samoa at 633-2610 or visiting their office in Utulei.
 
Samoa News should point out that the Enfamil brand infant formula was replaced with the Similac brand several years ago in the local WIC program. At the time, a similar problem with contaminated milk was found in certain case lot numbers of Enfamil. The public was notified and like precautions and actions were taken. Later, WIC replaced Enfamil with Similac, but contaminated infant milk case lots were not mentioned as the reason for the change.



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