The General Department of Consumer Protection, Competition and Fraud Repression (CCF) has asked DKSH Cambodia to issue a press release about the recall of some Similac infant formulas in some countries after the discovery of a virus in the product.

The request came on March 3 during a meeting between CCF and representatives of DKSH -- the authorised distributor of Abbot Nutrition products -- to discuss an efficient way to inform the public about the recall of batches found to have been contaminated by the Cronobacter sakazakii virus.

“Batches of Similac infant formula with the first two digits 22 to 37 have been designated as contaminated by the US Food and Drug Administration. According to information from the source of production, this [contaminated] product had been imported to some countries in Asia, but not to Cambodia yet,” the department said in a Facebook post.

CCF director-general Phan Oun told The Post that the department had given DKSH time to make a public announcement, although no Similac products distributed by the company in Cambodia are affected by the recall.

“The company is in the process of preparing a public notice and will make its announcement next Monday,” he said.

Morng Leaksmey, a resident of Banteay Meanchey province, said she had been bottle-feeding her three-month-old baby for two months when she became ill. At first, she thought her baby had developed a different disease, but when she heard about the infected milk powder, she realised that this could be causing the illness.

“I took her to see a doctor who explained that my baby had a viral stomach infection. How could my baby catch a stomach virus if she was bottle fed? At first, I could not believe that the milk formula was infected. But when I checked the batch numbers on the tins I was using, sure enough – they were the ones which have been recalled,” she said.

Leaksmey praised the courage of the American company which immediately announced the problem with its products and recalled them, but expressed frustration with the provincial retailers she had purchased the baby formula from.

“Because I was afraid of running out of powder, I ordered a lot. I ordered from stores in Phnom Penh and also from vendors in my province. After the recall was announced, the Phnom Penh stores refunded me and took back the contaminated product. The stores in the province refused to accept the return of the nine tins I bought from them, leaving me more than $300 out of pocket,” she added.

The problem is not new. In 2020, many parents went to the Ministry of Health for help after their children experienced anaemia and iron deficiency after using Nutrilatt powdered milk formula – which was later found to have problems.

From 2000 to 2010, the rate of breastfeeding in Cambodia (proportion of infants who were breastfed from birth to six months of age, in accordance with the guidelines of the WHO) increased significantly, from 11 to 74 per cent.

A later study released in 2014 found that breastfeeding alone was on the decline and dairy consumption was on the rise, posing significant risks to the health and survival of children as well as placing unnecessary strain on the family’s finances.

World Vision Cambodia considered that the leading factor triggering this increase was the unethical promotion of dairy products. Their promotion had negatively affected the practice of breastfeeding. The organisation still encouraged all mothers to breastfeed their babies for at least six months.

The health ministry also announced the recall of Abbot’s Alimentum and EleCare human milk fortifiers on March 3.

According to the announcement, the ministry had received information from the International Food Safety Authority Network that these products – manufactured in Sturgis in the US state of Michigan – were to be recalled on suspicion of infections of Cronobacter Sakazakii and Salmonella in the production chains.

“This virus poses a risk to consumer health, especially infants and small children. The virus dies at a temperature of 70 degrees Celsius, so preparing this product with cold water carries a high risk,” the ministry said.

The ministry added that Abbott had acted to voluntarily recall the potentially tainted products from the countries that had officially imported them. Cambodia had not legally imported these suspect products, but the ministry feared that some parents may have somehow obtained them, and felt obligated to issue a warning.