Abbott Laboratories is already among the manufacturers named in MDL-3026, which focuses on claims that cow’s milk-based formula caused premature infants to develop necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). Now Abbott faces yet another multidistrict litigation. The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation recently consolidated lawsuits regarding Abbott’s infant formula contaminated with Cronobacter sakazakii and Salmonella Newport. These lawsuits allege that tainted Abbott products resulted in infant deaths and illnesses nationwide. On August 5, 2022, the JPML formed MDL-3037.
Abbott Recalled Several Infant Formulas in February
Abbott Laboratories division, Abbott Nutrition, manufactures various nutritional products for all walks of life, from infants to adults. The company aims to produce quality formulas to foster the development and health of infants. However, Abbott came under scrutiny after it issued a recall for three types of its powdered formula on February 17, 2022. The recall applied to Abbott’s Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare powdered formula products manufactured at one of its plants in Sturgis, Michigan.
Abbott initiated the recall after reports surfaced of infant deaths and illnesses due to the presence of bacteria like Cronobacter sakazakii and Salmonella Newport in its powdered formulas. This recall prompted the FDA to launch an investigation into the Sturgis, Michigan facility to identify bacterial and manufacturing issues. Environmental samples collected during the inspection revealed several instances of Cronobacter throughout the plant. Furthermore, the FDA found that Abbott did not properly clean surfaces to protect formula products from contamination, and workers neglected to wear protective gear when handling the formula.
On February 28, the CDC announced another Cronobacter sakazakii illness as a result of exposure to Abbott Nutrition’s Similac PM 60/40 produced at the same facility. Abbott subsequently issued another recall since that lot of Similac was not included under the first recall.
Despite these major flaws and hazards in Abbott’s manufacturing process and environment, the Sturgis, Michigan facility resumed operation in June 2022 to alleviate the nation’s baby formula shortage. Abbott supplies 46.2% of the U.S. supply of baby formula, and the Michigan plant accounts for one-quarter of that.
JPML Creates New Recalled Abbott Infant Formula MDL
On August 5, 2022, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation centralized eighteen lawsuits against Abbott Laboratories into MDL-3037 and appointed Senior District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly to oversee the MDL. By September 15, 2022, the number increased to thirty-six lawsuits pending in the MDL for illnesses related to Cronobacter sakazakii and Salmonella Newport in Abbott’s powdered formula products. Plaintiffs accuse the infant formula manufacturer of negligently producing hazardous products that resulted in infant death and jeopardized the health of babies. Cronobacter infections in babies can lead to meningitis, sepsis, gastrointestinal distress, and even death.
Abbott continues to deny that its formula is responsible for the reported deaths and illnesses, even though the FDA and Abbott’s own investigation found Cronobacter at the Michigan site. The company asserts that none of its products shipped to customers tested positive for the bacteria.