Necrotizing Enterocolitis from Cronobacter

Among infants, invasive Conobacter sakazakii infections often cause sepsis (blood infections), meningitis (swelling of the membranes surrounding the brain or spinal cord), and necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a condition that inflames intestinal tissue, causing it to die.

NEC is the most common gastrointestinal disease affecting newborn infants. Most cases of early-stage NEC can be treated nonsurgically, but surgery is required in about 30 percent of cases.  Swedish researchers found a mortality rate of 30 percent in their study of 131 infants with surgically treated NEC reported from 1976 to 2016.

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Symptoms of Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC)

NEC usually develops two to six weeks of birth. Symptoms, which can develop slowiy or all at once,  include:

  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Geen or yellow vomit
  • Pain or swelling in the abdomen
  • Changes body temperature, breathing, heart rate or blood pressure
  • Lethargy
  • Refusal to eat

Most Cronobacter Infections are Linked to Powdered Infant Formula

NEC is six to 10 times more common in exclusively formula-fed babies than in those who are fed breast milk. And three times more common in babies who are fed both formula and breast milk.

Numerous studies show that most Cronobacter infections in infants have been linked epidemiologically to powdered infant formula.  Unlike its liquid counterpart, powdered infant formula is not a sterile product meaning it can, and sometimes does, contain harmful bacteria.

Most Cronobacter outbreaks linked to powdered infant formula documented since the 1980s have occurred in hospital settings. These events are what prompted the FDA in 2002 to discourage the use of powdered infant formulas in hospital settings.

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Current Cronobacter Illnesses Linked to Powdered Infant Formula

On February 17, 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced an investigation of four Cronobacter and Salmonella illnesses among infants who consumed Similac, EleCare, and Alimentum baby formula. After the announcement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began receiving more reports of infants with possible Cronobacter illnesses.

The FDA’s investigation includes one infant in Texas with a Salmonella Newport infection and four infants in Minnesota, Ohio, and Texas who developed Cronobacter sakazakii infections. Two babies in Ohio died.

All of the infants consumed Similac, EleCare, or Alimentum made at Abbott Nutrition’s facility in Sturgis, MI. The company has issued a recall for those products.

Cronobacter is associated with dry foods such as powdered milk and infant formula. In general, It does not cause severe illness among adults. But among infants Cronobacter infections are often life-threatening.

During its investigation of Abbott’s Sturgis facility, the FDA collected environmental swabs and several were positive Cronobacter.  Reviewing the company’s records, the agency also discovered  that the company had previously found environmental contamination with Cronobacter sakazakii and destroyed product due to the presence of Cronobacter

Using whole genome sequencing, which can identify the genetic “fingerprint” of a bacterial strain, the CDC plans to compare Cronobacter isolates from the babies who became ill with the environmental samples the FDA collected to see if they are related.

Food Safety Lawyers with Experience

If your baby developed necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) from a Cronobacter infection and you would like a free consultation with an experienced food safety lawyer, please contact us. You can reach us by calling 1-888-377-8900, sending a text to 612-261-0856, or by completing the form below. There is no obligation and we don’t get paid unless we win.

We are not paid unless you win. Submitting this form does not create an attorney-client relationship.



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