GLOBAL – Spacing samples over time in a stratified sampling pattern would help control the risk of pathogens like Cronobacter Sakazakki in infant formula powder compared to the random sampling during production, research finds.

The research was led by project lead Matthew J. Stasiewicz, associate professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, at the University of Illinois, US was published in the Journal of Food Protection. 

The researchers used computer models to simulate sampling and testing finished formula to gauge the power of current national and international guidelines for testing programs and suggest ways to do better.

The process was based on detecting a realistic hazard, defined by what was observed in samples from Cronobacter-contaminated batches produced in Europe in the 2010s, the most current data available.

The researchers found that safety plans with 30 or more grab samples had a very high probability of detecting hazards.

However, there was a point of diminishing returns, where very high sample numbers—like testing every can produced—would not be meaningfully more powerful.

“Our findings show that existing sampling and testing guidance is powerful, at least for the one hazard profile our team had access to for the study,”  Matthew said.

“However, this work also highlights the need for additional research and data sharing efforts into patterns of contamination in infant formula production so that sampling and testing can be better matched to current needs.” 

Safety systems for infant formula production include control points like milk pasteurization and steps to prevent contamination such as sanitary facility design and regular cleaning and sanitation.

Product testing is an additional tool that producers are using to verify safety, and it must be powerful enough to catch a major failure before a potentially risky product is released to customers.

However, infant formula is still prone to contamination which leads to costly product recalls and shortages, a good example being the 2022 US Infant Formula crisis.

The recall was linked to Cronobacter contamination at an Abbot Nutrition infant formula manufacturing plant which led to nationwide product recalls, plant closure, and the ensuring acute shortage.

During the shortage, almost half of US parents were forced to switch to risky feeding methods, such as watering down the formula or using expired or homemade formula. Before the crisis, this figure amounted to 8%. 

After the US infant formula shortage in 2022, the FDA released an outline to avert future contaminations with Cronobacter or other sources.

Among others, the plan aimed to continue enhancing the inspection of formula manufacturers and monitoring supply. 

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