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What is Cronobacter? What parents using powdered formula need to know about the bacteria

Posted at 5:26 AM, Mar 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-16 07:56:38-04

Chances are you've heard of E.coli or Salmonella, but Cronobacter is a bacteria you may not be familiar with. It was recently linked to the recent powdered baby formula recall of popular brands like Similac.

"This bacteria, they are found in many different environments," said Troy Skwor, Assistant Professor of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Skwor teaches about Cronobacter in his Medical Microbiology course.

"It's been found in over 100 different foods, it's in the soil. The thing about it is you can find it in processed cheese, meats, herbs, spices," he added.

Even before Abbott announced Cronobacter was linked to its powdered formula recall, Skwor covered the bacteria in his class and how it can contaminate this kind of baby food.

"They have shown that bacteria can actually survive inside of powdered milk for years. Cronobacter they've shown for over two and a half years, it can survive inside of infant formula," Skwor said.

He explains anyone immunocompromised can get really sick from Cronobacter, and infants fall into that category since their immune system hasn't fully matured. That's why practicing proper hygiene is a must, especially for newborns.

"If we get sloppy, let's just say we don't clean our hands beforehand, and then we make your infant's formula, those bacteria could get into the milk," Skwor said.

To best protect your baby, the CDC saystoss out expired formula and make sure your container doesn't have dents or opened seals. Also sanitize and sterilize all parts of your baby's bottle. You can always consider feeding your baby liquid formula. But it can be more expensive than powdered.

If you stick with powdered formula, the CDC suggests boiling water, then adding it to the formula and shaking to mix. Just make sure you let it sit to cool down to room temperature so it's safe for your baby.

"Cronobacter does not survive pasteurization. So, that's why if you boil the water, then you would pour it into the formula if Cronobacter did exist there it would die," he said.

To be clear, you shouldn't try this method if your formula is part of the recent recall. In those cases, per the CDC's recommendation, you need to stop using that recalled formula.

Skwor stresses parents shouldn't panic over this bacteria. While an infection can be serious, an outbreak is rare.

"The number of cases, typically in babies is 1 out of 100,000. So, I mean it's pretty rare."

As evident by the latest recall, it can happen and that serves as a reminder of how important it is to safely prepare a bottle of powdered formula.

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