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Georgia won't need to toss unused baby formula after receiving federal approval to 'temporarily lift' restriction

Previously a federal guideline required Georgia's Women, Infants, and Children program, known as WIC to toss unused and sealed baby formula that was returned.

ATLANTA — Friday afternoon the Georgia Department of Public Health announced a federal policy is temporarily being lifted that previously led to the state destroying thousands of containers of returned and still sealed baby formula.

The development will allow Georgia's Women, Infants, and Children program, known as WIC, to instead donate the returned formula that is a necessity currently at the center of a nationwide shortage.

Until Friday afternoon, the returned formula needed to be tossed despite being sealed due to a federal guideline the state adopted in 2019 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service.

RELATED: 6 things parents need to know about the baby formula shortage and what to do if their brand is out of stock

Recently Georgia WIC leadership contacted FNS to request the guideline be lifted to allow the returned formula to be donated.

According to GaDPH, prior to the USDA guidance in August 2019, unopened formula returned to Georgia WIC clinics was stored and reissued.

"DPH/Georgia WIC just received approval from FNS allowing us to donate returned formula. We do not have details worked out yet with the districts, but this is great news," GaDPH spokeswoman Nancy Nydam wrote 11Alive Friday. "They are notifying the district WIC clinics today, and the clinics will work out the donation process to food banks in their areas."

From October 2021 through this past Tuesday, Georgia's WIC program had to toss 16,459 containers of returned formula, according to data provided by GaDPH. 

That consisted of 11,724 containers of powdered formula, 3,000 containers of ready-to-use formula, and 1,735 containers of concentrate.  

FNS federally oversees state WIC programs. 

The 2019 guideline stated

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) recommends WIC clinics dispose of unused, returned WIC infant formula in accordance with state and local health and safety laws. FNS does not recommend donating unused, returned WIC infant formula to entities such as food banks or food pantries.

This approach ensures safety. Unused, returned infant formula may have been inappropriately stored (e.g., exposed to extremely high temperatures), may be past its use-by-date, or subjected to tampering (e.g., labels or use-by dates changed). Some of these conditions can cause products to lose nutrients, impact the product’s safety, and potentially threaten the health of recipients.

Moving forward though, with the guideline temporarily lifted, returned formula will no longer be thrown away and can now be donated.

WIC receives returned formula when it works with mothers of babies that have a problem with consuming a particular formula, for example when the child has an intolerance or allergy or receives a doctor's recommendation to use a specific formula.  

In such cases according to a GaDPH spokeswoman, "GA WIC issues vouchers for the new formula in quantities to match the amount remaining on the unused vouchers as well to replace the number of cans of unused formula that the parent/caretaker returned to the local clinic. This lessens the burden on participants needing to use other funds to replace cans that had already been redeemed."

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