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WIC retailers get green light to sell Similac formula

Remember the tainted baby formula that resulted in the director of the Department of Human and Social Services (DHSS) Taeaoafua Dr. Meki Solomona issuing a “do not buy” notice last week?


Well, there’s good news for mothers who are recipients of WIC checks. Abbott Laboratories has confirmed that Similac Advance formula from lot #33445RE “are safe and nutritious and do not pose a health risk to babies”.


Last week, after reports from WIC mothers that they noticed trash particles in cans of Similac formula that are purchased with WIC checks, Taeaoafua issued a ‘do not buy’ notice through media announcements.


The notice, according to him, was “a preventive measure because these products may have the potential to be contaminated. 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”. 


Samples of formula from the lot in question were sent to Abbott Laboratories for further analysis.


 Last Friday, Taeaoafua announced that, according to a letter from Abbott, the manufacturer of Similac Advance, the particles found in the sample sent by the DHSS “do not pose a health risk to babies who consume them… and parents and health care professionals should continue to use their infant formulas with confidence.”


In a letter from Sara Collura, Abbott’s Consumer Relations Officer, to DHSS Deputy Director Muavaefa’atasi John Suisala, Collura informed DHSS that Abbott conducted a thorough review of the sample that was provided from Similac Advance lot number 33445RE and from the microscopic and chemical analysis, it was confirmed that the particles were indeed powder and not a foreign material. 


Collura explained that in order to turn liquid formula into powder, it is necessary for the liquid to go through a heating process. During the heating process, some particles that are nearest the heat source may be scorched or discolored as a result. The results of this assessment concluded that a small amount of the powder formula particles in the sample were lightly scorched.


“Scorched particles do not pose a health risk to babies who consume them,” Collura wrote. “Parents and health care professionals can be assured that Similac powder infant formulas, including powder from this lot, are safe and nutritious”.


Furthermore, “Parents and health care professionals should continue to use our infant formulas with confidence”.


In announcing the results of their analysis, Collura said that they “regret the experience the American Samoa Department of Human and Social Services had with Similac Advance and apologized for any inconvenience this situation may have caused”.  She also thanked the DHSS for bringing this matter to their attention and for DHSS’s confidence that this situation was addressed by the appropriate quality assurance personnel.


Based on the assurance from Abbott, the American Samoa WIC Program is now advising all WIC authorized retailers to sell Similac Advance infant formula from lot number 33445RE.


Taeaoafua extends his appreciation to Abbott for addressing the matter and for the assurance they provided that the infant formula in question is safe and pose no health risk to babies.  He also thanked DHSS’s federal and state partners for their continued guidance, assistance, and support.


Also last Friday, all mothers and caregivers of newborns and infants who are recipients of the WIC program and receive WIC checks (food instruments) to purchase WIC-approved infant formula were told that Abbott Laboratories was sending an emergency shipment of Similac to take care of all WIC-recipients, particularly newborns and infants.


The shipment was to address the shortage of Similac infant formula on island, which resulted from last week’s ‘do not buy’ advisory.


The emergency shipment was to be sent by airfreight last Friday “to take care of close to 1,000 newborns and infants in American Samoa who rely on the WIC Program for infant formula,” Taeaoafua said.


 The courtesy cans were to be distributed this past Saturday at the WIC Office in Utulei, but according to DHSS officials, the shipment never arrived.


Samoa News understands that Abbott was told by Hawaiian Airlines that the shipment of Similac was not shipped “due to high passenger related volume and cargo”.


Abbott has since spoken with the Cargo Operations Manager for Hawaiian Airlines, for assistance in prioritizing the shipment for tonight’s flight.


As a result of the delay, the distribution that was scheduled to begin last Saturday was canceled and all WIC recipients who showed up have been advised that all WIC authorized retailers have been told to release the hold that was placed on Similac Advance formula from lot number 33445RE.


WIC recipients who turned in Similac infant formula from this lot number to the ASWIC Office will be given their cans back when they come in for their courtesy cans.


Those who were unable to use their WIC checks due to the shortage in Similac are asked to go to any WIC authorized retailer to purchase their supplies, now that retailers have been given the green light to sell infant formula from lot number 33445RE.


Taeaoafua extends his fa’afetai tele to the people of American Samoa, particularly recipients of the WIC Program, for their patience and continued support “of the work that we do on behalf of all our recipients.”


Parents, WIC authorized retailers and concerned members of the community who need additional information are asked to contact Tanya White Atofau at the ASWIC at 633-2610 or visit their office in Utulei across from the DDW Restaurant.