Similac Recall: Time to Switch to Generic Formula

Last Updated Sep 24, 2010 3:25 PM EDT

By now you've probably heard about the latest recall that's infuriating parents nationwide. This week Abbott Laboratories warned the public that certain lots of Similac powdered baby formula may contain beetles or their larvae. Once again we are reminded that buying a pricey brand name product doesn't guarantee safety or quality.

Parents who give their babies Similac and other name brand baby formulas typically pay twice as much as the generic equivalent. Before the recall, I saw a 24 oz. can of Similac Advance selling for $27 at a local pharmacy in New York City. The store brand version was less than $16.

Why do some families pay more for name brand formulas? New parents are introduced to branded milk substitutes like Similac and Enfamil in the hospital. They are then often reluctant to switch to a cheaper alternative since it can take up to a week for a child to adjust to a different formulation.

There's also a notion in our society that you get what you pay for. So parents sometimes believe that a name brand formula must be safer or offer their child a higher nutritional value than a generic version. In this case, however, that's simply not true. Thanks to the Infant Formula Act of 1980, all baby formula sold in this country must meet minimum nutrient requirements and FDA regulations.

If all baby formulas are pretty much the same, then one has to wonder why the name brand versions cost so much more. The answer is pretty simple. Parents are paying for all that marketing and advertising the companies put behind their products, says Jean Halloran, the director of food policy initiatives for Consumers Union.

If your little one drinks Similac, check your formula's lot number to see if it is part of the recall. If it is, stop using it immediately. But even if your container isn't of concern, consider throwing it out anyway, says Halloran.

Often times with recalls, we later discover than more facilities are involved than originally reported, warns Halloran. This was indeed the case with the recent egg recall. What started off as a small news item eventually turned into a massive problem.

The Similac recall should also serve as a reminder for parents that they need to be vigilant about baby product safety in general. The best way to do that is to sign up for emails from the government's recall.gov website.

Do you use generic baby formula? If not, will you consider switching now?

Stacey Bradford is the author of The Wall Street Journal Financial Guidebook for New Parents.
Formula One image courtesy of Flickr, CC 2.0.
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