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Special Assignment: Forgotten Formula?

Special Assignment: Forgotten Formula?

February 4, 2010, News 12 at 6 o'clock

When you buy something at the grocery store, you trust that it's safe. You trust the store and the laws that regulate it. But, a News 12 investigation shows some things are slipping through the cracks, and it could be harming the youngest member of your family. You won't believe how much forgotten formula we were able to find.

When Addison Moore smiles, you can't help but smile too.

She's a very happy and healthy 8-month-old who seemed more curious about our camera than her toys on the day we visited her, but new parents Robbie and Kristen are more curious about something else: something that happened when News 12 went on a little shopping trip.

We bought expired baby formula all over the area, and some of that formula is the same brand Robbie and Kristen give little Addison.

What we found surprises Robbie. "Raising a baby is hard enough," he says. "You feel like you don't need the stores stacked against you."

In all, News 12 visited eleven stores all over the area. In Richmond County, we went to the Rite Aid on Washington Road, the Walmart on Bobby Jones, the Bi-Lo on Gordon Highway, Buy Buy Baby, and Target. In Aiken County, we looked for expired formula in the North Augusta Walgreen's on Knox Avenue, the Kroger on Knox Avenue, the Publix on East Martintown Road, and the K-Mart on East Martintown. We finished up in Columbia County by dropping by Babies R Us and the CVS on Old Petersburg Road.

After two days of undercover shopping, we collected a big pile of expired formula both in the liquid and powder form. We purchased it at the Rite Aid on Washington Road, the North Augusta Walgreen's, Kroger, Publix, and K-Mart and the Evans Babies R Us. That's right. Six stores out of eleven had expired formula on their shelves. That's more than half.

If that's not surprising enough, we were even more shocked at how old some of the formula actually is. Some expired in September of 09. We also bought some that expired in October, November, December, and January.

Keep in mind, the expiration dates aren't as easy to see as it is on things like milk. When you buy a gallon of milk, the date is stamped on the front so you can't miss it. However, on the powder and liquid formula, it's stamped in tiny print on the bottom of top. It doesn't catch your eye right away. You have to really look for it.

So, it's not something Robbie and Kristen ever thought about until we told them about our investigation.

"We immediately checked our pantry," says Robbie. " The first thing we did was check our formula." Kristen is still concerned, even after learning her formula is safe. "The ones that we have were good, but what about the ones that we've already given her that we don't have the container anymore to look and see?"

It's not something that's just bothering Kristen and Robbie. Dr. Jatinder Bhatia, the head of Neonatology at MCG, doesn't like this either. " I would hope that the business itself would monitor itself and not have expired formula on the shelf for sale, " says Dr. Bhatia.

Dr. Bhatia is part of a national committee that develops guidelines for pediatricians on the nutritional needs of infants and children. He knows when formula is expired, the nutrients break down so babies don't get all the vitamins the packaging says they do. That's especially a problem for the babies who aren't breastfed or are old enough to eat baby food yet.

That formula is all the nourishment they're getting. There's also the worry it could make your baby sick. "Intuitively, it would come to mind saying it could do harm," says Dr. Bhatia, "but we don't have any solid evidence to say it's harmful." To get that evidence, Dr. Bhatia says researchers would have to knowingly give healthy babies bad formula, and that's just not ethical. Who would do that?

But, a quick Google search shows some parents have done that on accident. One couple in Winnipeg, for example, claims it made their 9-month-old throw up. This is why Dr. Bhatia doesn't want any parent to take any chances. He says if you have any expired formula, "throw it away."

Still, the best thing you can do is look at the date in the store before you buy it. Kristen certainly will from now on: "Since I know that they're not checking for me, I know that I need to check for myself."

Addison's healthy smile is worth it.

So, what should you do if you find expired formula when you are at the store? You need to tell the store manager right away. They should get it off the shelves. Then, you can contact the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA does not usually regulate or oversee expired food, but baby formula is the exception, and agents want to know about it if you find any. You can file a complaint here.

As for the stores where we bought expired formula, they all assured me this was just an oversight. Some are even promising action to make sure it doesn't again. One is retraining employees, and another got in touch with its Vice President of Operations to make all of the company's stores nationwide aware of our investigation so they can double and triple check this.

You can bet we will be following up on this. We want to know who's regulating this and why so many stores had the expired formula. Stay tuned to News 12 as we continue our investigation into "Forgotten Formula?"

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