Last year, following the February Abbott recall and subsequent shortage of infant formula, many households across the U.S. heard about a pathogen (bacterium) for the first time called Cronobacter sakazakii. This pathogen isn’t new to the food industry but is not well-known among the general public, so I thought I would catch up with you on some basics about Cronobacter.
What We Know about Cronobacter
Cronobacter is found naturally in the environment – for example, in our yards, kitchens, and living rooms. It can live on surfaces like kitchen counters, sinks, or also on food facility manufacturing equipment. While Cronobacter is harmless for most people, it can cause life threatening infections in infants, particularly those who are younger than two months old, premature, immunocompromised, or of low birth weight.
Evidence has pointed to Cronobacter contamination occurring both in the food facility manufacturing environment and in the home, as demonstrated in the CDC’s recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). Because this pathogen is so ubiquitous in the environment, public health officials stress the importance of safe preparation and storage of powdered infant formula to avoid contamination at home, and the FDA sets certain requirements to help control for it in the manufacturing environment. As part of our work here at the agency to continue to enhance safety in the infant formula manufacturing environment, the FDA recently sent a letter to industry with recommendations for improvements that can be made industry wide.