The Justice Department has begun a criminal investigation of actions at Abbott Laboratories' plant in Sturgis, Michigan, that was shut down almost a year ago, intensifying a national shortage of baby formula. The company said it's cooperating with federal investigators, NBC News reports. Four infants became ill after having powdered formula made at the factory. FDA inspectors then found a rare bacteria at the plant, per the Wall Street Journal, though it wasn't shown to be connected to the illnesses. Genetic sequencing showed no match between the bacteria at the plant and the strain in the infants, Cronobacter sakazakii, the company said.
The baby formula was recalled in February. Inspectors also reported other issues at the Sturgis plant, including standing water, damage to drying equipment, and defects in the seams of formula cans. In a complaint, the Justice Department said Abbott and its workers allowed "adulterated food" to be placed in interstate commerce. The company and the government signed a consent decree in May on the steps needed to reopen the plant, and it went back into production; the shortages lasted until September. Abbott produces the brands Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare. The investigation is being conducted by the department's consumer protection wing, per the Journal, which handles criminal and civil cases. (Read more Abbott Laboratories stories.)