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Nationwide formula shortage hits home
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Super Rama employee Kim Robinson shows the store’s baby formula shelf, which is partially bare. Some relief is expected to arrive May 30, but a soy-based formula is not scheduled to be in stock until June 21.
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Emily Smith

Emily Smith popped into Super Rama on Thursday morning to see if her type of baby formula was available. She searched the shelves, but was out of luck.

“I’ve been using goat milk for my 7-month-old because that’s what I was raised on,” said Smith. “This is my first baby and now I can’t find food. It’s been a pretty big deal.”

Smith isn’t the only parent struggling to find baby formula. The U.S. is immersed in a nationwide shortage because a factory in Sturgis, Mich., shut down when federal officials began investigating four babies who suffered bacterial infections after consuming formula from the facility.

“We order it, but it doesn’t come in,” said Warehouse Discount Groceries manager Frankie Basham. “We’ve been able to keep the Enfamil regular but that’s about it. Everything else is just empty shelves. Customers ask about it all the time.”

Super Rama manager Keith Hollingsworth confirmed that statement saying he’s asked about baby formula several times a day.

“It’s a bad situation and it looks like it will be a least a couple more weeks before it clears up,” said Hollingsworth. He said the toilet paper shortage, and now the baby formula shortage, are the two biggest supply issues he’s encountered during his more than three decades in the grocery business.

“Some parents are desperate and we’re trying our best,” said Hollingsworth.

He said Super Rama carries three types of baby formula and is struggling to get shipments of two of the three. He said he’s been informed by his supplier that Super Rama is in line to receive an order May 30, but it’s expected to be June 21 before he gets a soy-based baby formula that’s currently out of stock.

Most baby formulas contain protein from cow’s milk that’s been altered to be easier to digest and enhanced with extra nutrients needed for growth and development. The Food and Drug Administration sets specific nutritional requirements, including minimum amounts of protein, fat, calcium and a number of vitamins. Formula makers achieve those levels by adding various sugars, oils and minerals.

Health officials advise against using do-it-yourself formulas that can be found online because they can be made from cow’s milk and granular sugar that may be difficult for young babies to digest. They can also lack the specific vitamins and proteins found in breastmilk and FDA-approved formulas that are needed for basic nutrition.

On Thursday, Gov. Bill Lee, in conjunction with the Tennessee Department of Health, released the following statement:

“As parents across the country face empty shelves at the grocery store, we’re reminded just how important a stable supply chain is for Tennessee families,” said Lee. “We thank grocers and retailers for doing their part as we pull every lever to give Tennesseans in crisis the resources they need."