Former White House press secretary Jen Psaki was called out for spreading misinformation on her last day on the job after she said “tainted” baby formula killed two infants in February.
During Friday’s press briefing, Psaki faced multiple questions from reporters on what the Biden administration is doing to get baby food back on grocery store shelves amid a nationwide shortage. Among the options she said the White House is considering is using the Defense Production Act to get more formula manufactured and also importing more formula from abroad.
“We have a great deal of manufacturing capacity here in the United States. That’s less the issue,” Psaki told the press. “The issue is, obviously, this was a recall in February, that, as a reminder, was done because there — in — there was a factory in Michigan that had tainted formula that killed two babies.”
Psaki was referring to the closing of a plant in Sturgis, Michigan, operated by Abbott Laboratories, one of the largest manufacturers of baby formula in the U.S. The plant was shut down in February after Abbott issued a nationwide recall on its Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare baby formula products. The Food and Drug Administration had initially linked the recalled formulas to serious cronobacter sakazakii and salmonella infections in five infants, two of whom had died.
But Abbott pushed back on Friday, stressing that investigations by the FDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both found there was no evidence the formulas caused the deaths of those babies.
“At the White House press conference today, the Press Secretary mistakenly said that our formulas were tainted and killed two infants. The deaths of these infants are a tragedy,” Abbott said. “The facts, however, are critical: A comprehensive investigation by Abbott, FDA and CDC found no evidence that our formulas caused infant illnesses.”
The company said that while cronobacter sakazakii was found at its Sturgis plant, the bacteria was not found in areas where it manufactures its baby formula.
“Genetic sequencing on the two available samples from ill infants did not match strains of Cronobacter in our plant. Samples from ill infants did not match each other, meaning there was no connection between the two cases,” Abbott said.
“In all four cases, the state, FDA, and/or CDC tested samples of the Abbott formula that was used by the child. In all four cases, all unopened containers tested negative.”
“The formula from this plant did not cause these infant illnesses,” Abbott concluded.
The company also said it is taking several steps “to mitigate the supply issues” caused by the recall of its product. Those include increasing production at Abbott’s facility in Cootehill, Ireland, and shipping formula to the U.S., increasing production at a plant in Columbus, Ohio, and offering an increased number and value of coupons for all of Abbott’s infant formula products.