In March 2020, as the COVID-19 coronavirus disease continued to spread around the globe, worried citizens started to stock up on supplies to "wait out the storm" in the relative safety of their homes. As store shelves were temporarily emptied, a viral message started to circulate on social media that claimed anyone looking for baby formula during this pandemic could obtain some by simply calling the number on the back of one of these products:
This viral meme reads: "For parents who cannot find formula in stores for their babies right now grab the can of formula that you do have, and call the number on the back and they will send you a whole case during this time!"
This is not true. You can't receive a free case of baby formula simply by calling the number on the back of a product. This claim appears to have originated out of whole cloth.
One red flag that indicates this post contains faulty advice is that no specific company is identified in the message. We searched the websites of some of the larger baby formula brands, such as Gerber and Enfamil, and found no announcements about how parents could obtain baby formula via this method during the pandemic.
The Motherload, a Facebook group for mothers, reached out to Aptamil Customer Services and quoted the company as saying the rumor was false. From the Facebook post:
"I'm afraid this is not true and I'm really sorry to hear that people are spreading false rumours at such a worrying time. The World Health Organisation guidelines on the promotion of breastmilk substitutes STRICTLY prohibit us from giving out free milk under ANY circumstances."
And a spokesperson for that company also confirmed to Yahoo News that the rumor was false:
"This is not true and I'm really sorry to hear that people are spreading false rumours at such a worrying time.
“The World Health Organization guidelines on the promotion of breastmilk substitutes strictly prohibit us from giving out free milk under any circumstances."
A spokesperson for Gerber confirmed to us via email that this rumor wasn't true. Gerber also told us that families can find information about discounted products on the website gerber.com/coupons:
The Gerber spokesperson told us:
As a partner for both parents and healthcare professionals, we know our products play a vital role in a family’s life. We are here to help navigate the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation and ensure families can access our nutritional formulas, foods and beverages as the response to the pandemic evolves.
We want to reassure families across the nation that there is currently adequate supply of Gerber infant formula in the United States. We are working closely with our retail partners to restock any empty shelves as quickly as possible to meet demand. We have increased production and are now operating seven days a week, doing everything we can to quickly fill retail orders as soon as they’re received so we can help stores maintain their stocks.
We are aware of rumors claiming that Gerber is giving away free formula in response to the out of stocks. While this is not true, we are committed to our goal of supporting babies and families with dependable, affordable nutrition, and parents can find information about discounts by visiting https://gerber.com/coupons.
On March 16, Enfamil also responded to this rumor via a Facebook post. Enfamil confirmed that they were not giving away free cases of formula and informed parents that they can use the Enfamil store locator or the Enfamil shop to find baby formula:
We want to provide the Enfamil Community with as many answers as we can and clarify some misinformation during these uncertain times. Enfamil is fully committed to ensuring every baby gets all the Enfamil they need. We have been working with our employees, suppliers, and distributors to maintain availability and safe, high-quality production of our formulas in the coming weeks. Enfamil products can be located through our Enfamil Store Locator and purchased directly from our Enfamil Shop at our regular retail prices. Contrary to rumors in some online social networks, we are not distributing free cases of formula. We are instead focused on ensuring equitable availability for every baby.
Enfamil Store Locator: https://bit.ly/33rJeAm
Enfamil Shop: https://bit.ly/2IPWaX5