Reckitt Benckiser has instigated a large-scale infant-formula recall in the US because of possible health risks linked to contamination from the deadly Cronobacter sakazakii bacteria.

It is the same germ that forced US-based Abbott Laboratories to shut down its Sturgis, Michigan, factory last year for several months, leading to a baby-formula product shortage that led President Joe Biden to initiate emergency measures to bring in supply from overseas to meet domestic demand.

Reckitt said its recall of two batches of its ProSobee Simply Plant-Based infant formula – amounting to some 145,000 cans – is out of “an abundance of caution”. It said in a statement issued yesterday (20 February) there had been no reported adverse consumer reactions to date.

It has recalled 12.9 oz containers of the formula manufactured between August and September 2022 with a use-by date of 1 March but said the product has been tested and confirmed negative for contaminants.

The products were distributed through retail stores nationwide in the US as well as in Guam and Puerto Rico.

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No other ProSobee Simply Plant-Based Infant Formula batches or other Reckitt products are impacted.

In its statement, Reckitt said: “The batches in question tested negative for Cronobacter and other bacteria and this is an isolated situation. After a thorough investigation, we have identified the root cause, which was linked to a material from a third party. We have taken all appropriate corrective actions, including no longer sourcing this material from the supplier.”

Cronobacter bacteria can cause severe, life-threatening infections (sepsis) or meningitis. Infection may also cause bowel damage and may spread through the blood to other parts of the body.

It is especially harmful to infants under two months old.

Martin Deboo, an equity analyst covering Reckitt for investment bank Jefferies, said: “Our first take? The sales materiality of the impacted product would appear to be low and there are no reports as yet of any illness. The risk is of any wider impact on the reputation and distribution of the Enfamil brand, as occurred with the Abbott recall last year. US infant formula comprises circa 8% of Reckitt group sales.”

Abbott closed its plant last year after products manufactured there were linked to a Cronobacter sakazakii outbreak.

The severe product shortage which followed led to serious questions being asked about the country’s food security.

Earlier this month the FDA announced it is to overhaul its structure and food-safety procedures in the wake of criticism over its handling of the crisis.

Amongst other changes, the agency will appoint a deputy commissioner with responsibility for human foods.

Its announcement came just days after it was revealed Frank Yiannas, a senior official at the FDA, had stepped down amid news Abbott Laboratories is to face a criminal investigation by the Department of Justice.

From the Just Food archive, June 2022: Why there’s no single formula to fix US infant-milk market