FDA investigation underway after Portland mom found flour in can of baby formula

PORTLAND, Ore. -- A Portland mom says she bought a can of baby formula from Walmart that wound up being flour.

The formula in question is now subject of an FDA investigation and considered by Enfamil to be consistent with a type of retail return fraud.

That mother, whom FOX 12 is calling Jane, asked to conceal her identity. Her company does business with Walmart and she's fearful speaking out might somehow hurt that company.

Still, she wants to share this story because she's concerned other tainted cans of formula might still be out there.

Jane tells FOX 12 she walked into the Delta Park Walmart in north Portland in July looking to buy baby formula. She wound up purchasing a 22-ounce can of Enfamil Premium Newborn Powder.

Jane said she did not notice anything wrong with the packaging, so she wound up feeding that formula to her 3-week-old daughter.

"It seemed really strange because it wasn't mixing with the water and in fact when you let it sit for too long it was like cement at the bottom of the bottle," said Jane.

The new mom said she had never purchased formula before, but felt something wasn't right about that powder. She contacted Enfamil to get their advice and was told to send it back to them right away.

About a month later, she got word that formula was instead flour.

"I mean, just learning about that, I was in shock," she said.

In an email to Jane, an Enfamil employee said the tested powder appeared to be wheat flour and the pouch appeared to be resealed with a resin used in hot glue gun sticks. The email goes on to say there is no flour at the company's production facility, so employees can't explain how flour got into that sealed container.

Enfamil's parent company, Mead Johnson Nutrition (MJN) tells FOX 12 based on its findings this is likely a case of retail return fraud.

A complaint has since been filed with the US Food and Drug Administration. Tampering with formula is considered a federal crime.

"After talking to the FDA agent assigned to case, she told me the most logical explanation would be that a customer purchased the baby formula at Walmart, took it home, meticulously removed the stickers poured the bag of formula out and replaced it with flour so that she or he could return it, get money back and still have product."

FOX 12 obtained a copy of the FDA's investigative report into this incident. That report is heavily redacted. Administrators say that's because certain details in this document may compromise an ongoing criminal investigation.

Still, FOX 12 found the FDA has identified similar cases in multiple states across the country involving different varieties of Mead Johnson Nutrition products.

"I have so many sleepless nights thinking about other families who are going through this and may not even know about it," said Jane.

MJN tells FOX 12, under its return policy retailers can accept customer returns on formula, but for safety reasons that formula is not supposed to be resold. Instead, retailers can return that product to them for a full credit, or refund.

As for what may have gone wrong at the Delta Park Walmart, that's all still under investigation by the company and the FDA.

"It's sickening," said Jane. "I just want to be sure that this never happens to anyone else and that if it has already happened that they get to the bottom of this, that's all I want."

A representative with Walmart corporate communications tells FOX 12 that Walmart does accept customer returns on baby formula, but she would not comment on what happens to that formula after it is returned.

That representative claims once staff was made aware of the situation at the Delta Park Walmart, employees examined their supply of Enfamil, but she could not comment on when that was, how employees checked their supply, or if any additional cans were found to be tampered with.

Walmart's official statement from Tara Aston, Senior Manager of National Media Relations is this:

"Our customers deserve to shop without worrying about the foods they purchase, and we have policies and procedures in place to help ensure the safety and quality of the products we sell. We take this situation seriously and are continuing to look into what happened."

Answers that bring little comfort to Jane.

"My daughter was 3-weeks old when this happened," said Jane. "This was newborn baby formula, it could have been provided to the most indefensible people out there who cannot communicate they are hurt or sick."

Fortunately, Jane said her daughter seems to be just fine, she was only fed the tainted formula twice.

Anyone who thinks they may have purchased a can of tampered formula from Walmart, or anywhere else in the area, Enfamil does want to hear from them.

Contact Enfamil at either 1-812-429-6399 or toll-free at 1-800-222-9123. Choose menu option 1 (Product Quality or Safety Concern). Customer service representatives are available Monday through Saturday from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm, Central Standard Time, excluding holidays.