“We understand that parents have a lot of questions,” then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. She said the new site aims to provide “resources and places for parents to go to get formula, including contacts with businesses, food banks (and) health care providers.”
The webpage lists contact information for a number of baby food manufacturers including Gerber, Reckitt and Abbott — the company that was the center of major recalls dating back to February that led to shortages across the country. The site also directs families to resources such as local food banks, links to the website of the National Food Assistance Program known as “WIC,” as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics, and provides general safety guidelines. (No, you should not dilute your formula or try to make it at home.)
CNN’s reporter tested some of these resources in an effort to determine how useful these resources could be for parents who are desperate to buy infant formula. The exercise resulted in customer service apologies, one contract period lasting over an hour, and serious challenges finding infant formula through some of the key suggestions listed on the new HHS website.
Abbott Consumer Hotline: “No, we don’t (answer questions over the phone)”
We first tried calling the 1-800 consumer hotline for Abbott, the manufacturer of infant formula behind brands like Similac and EleCare. The formula made in a Michigan factory has been linked to infant illness and death, and it may take several weeks before the factory produces the formula again.
Are they able to answer any questions over the phone? “No, we don’t,” said the actor.
Bottom line: The Abbott hotline doesn’t appear to be a surefire way for parents to get baby formula.
Meanwhile, Abbott’s “Urgent Product Request Line”—also listed on the HHS website—requires the pediatrician to fax via a form, along with the physician’s order, to Abbott.
Reckitt Customer Service Line: 72 minutes waiting
This choice may push some anxious parents over the edge.
Reckitt is the manufacturer of the popular brand of infant formula, Enfamil. We were warned as soon as we called 1-800 that they were experiencing longer waiting times than usual. The elevator is peppered with music – every 30 seconds – with a female voice saying, “Please stay on the line. An expert will be with you soon.”
On a Friday afternoon, our total wait time was 1 hour 12 minutes before the customer service rep picked up. Is this waiting time normal? These days, she said, the company has been dealing with significant waiting times due to a nationwide shortage of formula.
The representative offered to help take a look at the company’s website to see what might be available for purchase.
Conclusion: “It looks like we don’t have any products in stock.” no thing? “We’re sold.”
It added that it also could not predict when products would be available again through its website, and also warned that if you try to place an order online, it may be canceled automatically.
After this story was published Monday morning, a Reckitt representative told CNN in a statement, “We understand the extent of the pressure on parents, and we fully understand the importance of our role in providing the single source of nutrition for many children. Since the recall, we have increased our resources for online and phone support, but unfortunately The wave of inquiries is huge.”
They also recommended that parents try the Enfamil.com website as well as “smaller grocery stores where they might not normally shop” to look for what might be available.
Gerber web chat: “My heart goes out to you”
The third company HHS recommends trying is Gerber. She says the company’s “MyGerber Baby Expert” offers multiple ways — by phone, text, web chat and more — parents can contact counselors who can help “select a similar formula that might be more readily available.”
We are trying to send a text message. The representative can recommend several Gerber products that are similar to a particular line of Similac’s formula, but the bad news is that both are out of stock on their website.
“I understand and am very sorry,” they wrote: “These are currently unexpected times and the team is working hard to get the product off the shelves. “
Web chat produces a similar response. “My heart does not go out to you at these times,” the actor wrote. They said that Gerber is working around the clock to get the formula on the shelves, but these are really unforeseen circumstances.
When we called Gerber’s 1-800 number, we were able to get a representative on the phone without delay. They have managed to direct us to some formula products for both infants and toddlers.
Over the weekend, the company’s website appeared to show that of the 24 different lines of the formula, 16 were out. Gerber told CNN Friday that he has ramped up production and accelerated its efforts to get more infant formula to market amid shortages in the United States. The company said it was running factories at maximum capacity, and that it had moved products made outside the country to speed availability.
HHS.gov/formula also suggests that families contact local food banks, pantries and charities who may be able to help.
Karma Hassan contributed to this story.
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