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Abbott to resume production of baby formula at Sturgis, Michigan plant after recall

CHICAGO (CBS/CNN) -- The Michigan baby formula plant at the center of a recall amid a nationwide shortage could be back up and running within two weeks.

Abbott Nutrition said after its plant in Sturgis, Michigan gets back in operation, product could be back on shelves in six to eight weeks, subject to approval by the Food and Drug Administration.

The company recalled three popular brands of powdered infant formula in February due to four complaints of the common environmental bacterium Cronobacter sakazakii in infants who consumed formulas produced at the infant formulas produced at the plant in Sturgis, located about 45 miles south of Kalamazoo and just north of the Indiana-Michigan state line. Abbott is headquartered in Chicago.

"Subject to FDA approval, we could restart the site within two weeks. We would begin production of EleCare, Alimentum and metabolic formulas first and then begin production of Similac and other formulas. From the time we restart the site, it will take six to eight weeks before product is available on shelves," the Abbott statement said.

The company said that it understands the formula shortage is urgent, and that getting operations at the Sturgis plant up and running will help alleviate the situation.

"We know the recall has worsened an already existing industry-wide infant formula shortage in the U.S. and we've been seeing and hearing the stress and despair of parents who are facing empty shelves. We deeply regret the situation," Abbott's statement said.

Abbott said it is improving its systems and protocols at the facility, including reviewing and updating education, training and safety procedures for both employees and visitors, as well as updating protocols regarding water and cleaning and maintenance procedures.

The company said it is also making upgrades to the plant, including installing nonporous, easily cleanable and sanitary floors.

Abbott emphasized in a statement that the Cronobacter sakazakii that was found in environmental testing during an investigation was in "non-product contact areas" of the Sturgis plan and was not linked to any known infant illness.

Four infants did become ill and tested positive for Cronobacter sakazakii and two of them died. But Abbott said the states where the infants lived, the Food and Drug Administration, and/or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested samples of the Abbott formula used by the child and all unopened containers tested negative. Three open containers at the homes of the infants also tested negative, and only one tested positive for two strains that did not match the one found in the Michigan plant, Abbott said.

The Abbott recall comes amid a nationwide shortage of baby formula that has resulted in several retailers imposing rationing. Walgreens and CVS are just two retailers that are putting limits on how much formula you can buy – in hopes of cutting into the supply issue.

But some parents say there is none in stock at all, and they're being forced to get creative to feed their babies.

Doctors say the best advice is to call your pediatrician first for alternatives. Your pediatrician will also have the best specific advice for your specific child, because each kid has a different need.

Doctors advise you should not resort to cutting formula with water or trying to make your own formula at home – which can be dangerous.

For purchasing formula, you can turn to online resources like eBay – where you'll see major price hikes. But that option, of course, is not feasible for everyone.

It is not clear what impact the resumption of production at the Michigan Abbott plant will have on the overall shortage.

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