State offices track how much infant formula they destroy, despite saying otherwise

10 June 2022

— After the state of North Carolina said it doesn’t track how much baby formula is being destroyed by its WIC offices, documents obtained by WRAL News show those offices actually maintain detailed records of how much formula they throw out.

It comes after a WRAL News investigation found that the state has been destroying supplies of baby formula since 2019, including during the shortages of recent months.

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“It’s frustrating to know that this is what’s happening to perfectly good food that could feed our babies,” Raleigh mother Marianna Horn said.

Horn is one of many North Carolina mothers who have been left searching for baby formula for months.

She’s resorted to joining Facebook groups online where desperate families can buy or exchange food.

Horn told WRAL News one woman recently drove five hours to her home just for one can of formula for her baby.

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“The situation has changed,” Horn said. “It has become an urgent crisis, and with crises comes the need for action.”

Horn was referring to the North Carolina Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, a federal plan in which the USDA partners with the state to provide food to families in need.

A WRAL News investigation found that the state has a policy of destroying all baby formula that’s returned to those WIC offices, even if it’s unexpired and unopened.

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A spokesperson for the NC Department of Health and Human Services told WRAL News the policy is a federal recommendation they’ve been following since 2019, aimed at preventing potentially improperly stored food from being donated back to families.

In the initial investigation, WRAL News asked NCDHHS how much formula the state has destroyed under the policy, and in response the state told us they don’t track that data.

But after that story, an employee of a state WIC office contacted WRAL News.

They sent us a document entitled “Formula Disposal Log.”

It says two WIC employees have to be present to record when formula is destroyed, including the date of return and disposal, the amount of formula being returned and even the type of food that’s thrown out.

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WRAL News reached out to NCDHHS for a response to the document.

“Yes, these forms are part of the process outlined by the North Carolina WIC Program Manual,” an NCDHHS spokesperson said. “Local agencies may print these paper forms for documentation and are not required to submit these individual forms to the state.”

“Our team is exploring the data availability and quality from these forms,” they continued.

With formula shortages ongoing, some mothers are now calling on the state to change the policy altogether.

“Parents are desperate,” Horn said. “We are in need of food for our babies, and we need action and we need it now.”

During our initial investigation, a spokesperson for NCDHHS told WRAL News that the state was revisiting the policy of destroying formula in light of the ongoing shortages.

We reached out to ask if there’s been any update to that review.

“The policy is continuing to be discussed in the context of the evolving formula shortage,” an NCDHHS spokesperson replied. “Our primary concern is the health and safety of North Carolina infants and children, weighing risks and potential benefits.”

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