News 12 Special Assignment: Babies At Risk: A System Breakdown (Part 2)


Thursday, October 31, 2013; News 12 at 11 o'clock

NORTH AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) -- We're on your side protecting the smallest members of your family from a big problem.

It's a problem so big, a local lawmaker is promising change.

We're talking about expired baby formula, and you won't believe how much of it we've been able to buy. It's disappointing because several years ago, we exposed this very problem and were promised change.

One local mother says it goes way beyond disappointing. She claims it's dangerous.

You could call Jazlyn a miracle baby. Her mom does. She believes it's a miracle she was even able to get pregnant. "You know, shots every morning in the stomach. Going to the doctor's office every week," she told News 12. But those aren't the doctors visits she wants to talk about. She wants you to know about another one. She wants to talk about the one she scheduled after she realized Jazlyn had been drinking expired baby formula. "Immediately, you know, I was like, 'oh my gosh,' you know. This is what's making her sick."

She's speaking out, but doesn't want to show her face because she wants you to think about her daughter's face instead. "This really makes you sit back, you know and think about who's protecting your child?"

She contacted News 12 because she remembered an investigation we did several years ago into how much expired baby formula is on store shelves.

In 2010, we went shopping.

We visited 11 different stores.

6 of them sold us expired formula.

When we learned little Jazlyn had been sick, we went shopping again, and what we found surprised even us.

We bought out of date formula at the CVS and the Walgreens on Richland Avenue in Aiken. We also found some at the BiLo on Wrightsboro Road, but two North Augusta grocery stores disappointed us most of all. We bought expired formula at the Publix on Martintown Road and the Kroger on Knox Avenue.

Those very stores also sold it to us in 2010.

Back then, they assured us it would never happen again. Years later, both have broken their promise. That exposes another problem: the system in place to keep your kids safe is broken too.

"We have received conflicting messages from the US FDA in regard to the regulation of infant formula," said Jim Beasley, a spokesperson for the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. "We do check for this type of thing, and it is noted as a violation if stores are selling infant formula past its sell by date," he said.

But DHEC doesn't seem to consider this as big of a deal as we do.

"Offenses of this nature, when it comes to infant formula, this one is a minor violation," said Beasley.

We took what we found to South Carolina State Representative Bill Hixon. He is assigned to the House Committee that oversees DHEC. "Anybody that could say this is not important, I think they need to have their head examined," he said. "When somebody brings something to my mind, I do my investigation too, just like you did yours. And you enlightened me to a lot of what was going on."

Representative Hixon enlightened us too.

When we sat down for an interview with DHEC, they gave us the impression South Carolina goes above and beyond what the FDA requires, but Representative Hixon says DHEC told him something entirely different. He says DHEC informed him the state isn't doing enough, and that DHEC is working to fix that. "They are in the process of rewriting our regulations dealing with that, but I want to make sure this goes the length you want it to go, and I want it to go."

On top of that, DHEC wanted to know why Representative Hixon was asking questions about expired formula in the first place. He told them about our News 12 investigation, and shortly after received two emails. Both were titled "Media query - WRDW-TV and baby formula."

One email reads expired formula could "lump or separate." To that, DHEC suggests simply "shaking the formula in the can." That's not what companies that make baby formula suggest. They say never give expired formula to your baby. That advice to parents was never mentioned in the DHEC emails. Instead DHEC says the reason stores should pull expired formula is "to prevent negative publicity."

Again, this is from the agency supposedly protecting babies like Jazlyn.

"We want to prevent illness, not work with it on the back end when it's being reported to us by physicians or hospitals," said Beasley.

DHEC also told us it relies on consumers to report problems too.

Jim Beasley: "You can notify us through our website, through our food safety program."
Meredith Anderson: "Which I did, and apparently, I'm the first."

I might be the first to report a problem with expired formula on the DHEC website, but I'm certainly not the first to buy it.

Representative Hixon wants to make sure I'm the last. "I'm only one of 124, but I see no one in the House of Representatives that would do anything to jeopardize a child's life or that they think could jeopardize a child's life."

Jazlyn's mother believed her little girl's life was jeopardized. When Jazlyn started throwing up after every bottle, she didn't understand why. Then she realized the formula she'd recently bought, was expired. Jazlyn was born with a tiny airway so her mom believes expired formula could have killed her. "And then with her condition of her vomiting, she had an increased risk of, you know, choking to death," she said.

But she believes all babies could be at risk, and that selling expired formula should be illegal.

News 12 has spent years exposing this problem, but the system is still broken.

Now a lawmaker agrees, it's time to fix it.

Even though current law says it's a minor violation, DHEC did respond almost immediately to the complaint I filed online. A local inspector went to the stores, checked, and then called to let me know he didn't find any expired formula on the shelves.

Obviously, it's not practical to have inspectors in stores all the time looking for this, so consumers are really the watchdogs. A lot of people we heard from took expired formula back to the store when they accidentally bought it and didn't report it, so we really don't even know how big of a problem this could be. That's why it's important to speak up if this has happened to you or does happen to you in the future.

Just go to this website:
https://www.scdhec.gov/environment/envhealth/food/htm/complaint/default.aspx

Of course we'll be watching what lawmakers do come January.


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