Few answers at Similac recall Web site, hot line

Posted Sep. 23, 2010 at 12:38 p.m.

Abbott Laboratories created a Web site for parents and caregivers to check whether their baby formula was affected by Wednesday’s Similac recall.

But families swamped the site and phone hot line Thursday, only to meet a dead end. The overwhelming surge of traffic resulted in busy lines and site problems, leaving parents frustrated by the company’s lack of response.

On Wednesday, Abbott Laboratories recalled about 5 million cans of certain Similac-brand powdered infant formula, due to the possible presence of beetle larva.

If ingested, the FDA said that this type of beetle could cause discomfort and irritate the gastrointestinal tract, making infants lose their appetite.

After the recall, Abbott established a 24/7 phone hot line and directed consumers to a Web site for more information, including affected product lot numbers. Repeated attempts to access both services by CNNMoney have been mostly unsuccessful.

“Both the Web site and our hot line have been increasing capacity … there has been significant volume,“ said Melissa Brotz, spokeswoman for Abbott Laboratories.

Users asked to enter the lot number listed on the product container onto the site to learn whether your Similac is part of the recall or not.

Raquel Powers, a spokeswoman for Abbott, said the company is trying to verify each lot number.

“We are (still) verifying the lot numbers,“ she said. “The recall is several thousand lots — some of which vary by only one number — and we don’t want to confuse caregivers and parents.“

Once the affected lot numbers are verified, a full list will be released, Powers said. Getting all of the affected lot numbers out is a top priority for Abbott. However, it’s not being done fast enough for some parents.

Christopher Justice, the father of an infant who has used Similac since birth, said Thursday that he was able to access the site — but only after repeatedly trying on three or four computers in the early morning hours.

“We were hitting with three to four devices and finally got through,“ he said. “And then after 8 to 10 minutes, we got a notice saying it’s been recalled.“

But Justice is upset that information wasn’t more readily available. It’s a problem that Jean Halloran, the director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union, says is common.

“It is often difficult to get good info in the early stages of the recall,“ Halloran said. “That is something I think is not acceptable, especially when you are dealing with an infant product.

Abbott is directing parents and caregivers to www.similac.com/recall10 or call 800-986-8850 for more information.

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