A whistleblower at Abbott Nutrition alerted the company about issues with a baby formula plant in Michigan in February 2021, months earlier than previously known, according to the Wall St. Journal.
The former employee, who remains unnamed, filed a complaint to Abbott regarding failing equipment at its Sturgis, Michigan plant as well as plant employees' failure to ensure the product leaving the plant was meeting standards, WSJ reported Wednesday.
The first complaints about the facility were originally understood to have come in October 2021, when the same former employee filed a complaint directly to the FDA.
Documents reportedly obtained by WSJ show the employee submitted a whistleblower complaint to the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in February 2021, which was promptly shared with Abbott directly.
Abbott had fired the employee in August 2020 due to "serious violations of Abbott’s food safety policies," according to Abbott spokesman Scott Stoffel.
"The federal OSHA complaint (February 2021) was a new complaint that raised new and different topics. And it continued [the former employee's] pattern of ever-evolving, ever-escalating allegations," Stoffell added.
The FDA conducted an investigation of the Sturgis facility following an interview with the former employee in December 2021, leading to Abbott's decision to close the facility and make changes.
Abbott ultimately recalled three of its baby formula products sourced from the Sturgis plant over safety issues.
The recalls and subsequent closure of the Sturgis plant contributed to the widespread shortage of baby formula across the U.S. in April and May.
President Joe Biden's administration resorted to using the U.S. military to fly hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of formula to the U.S. from overseas.
Biden says he was not aware of the potential for a formula shortage until early April. He also blamed Abbott for not communicating the threat.
"They did, but I didn’t," Biden said of Abbott last week. "I became aware of this problem some time in — after April — in early April, about how intense it was. And so, we did everything in our power from that point on, and that’s all I can tell you right now."
"And we’re going to continue to do it until we get the job done," he added.