Â Â SLO police arrested four people Saturday afternoon for stealing over $400 worth of powdered baby formula from the Albertsonâ€™s supermarket on Madonna Road in SLO. The three women and one man, all from Los Angeles, were booked for burglary and conspiracy to commit burglary after a store employee witnessed them loading cans of powdered Enfamil into bags and leaving the store without paying. Two of the women were detained at the store and the other two suspects were caught after fleeing on foot down Los Osos Valley Road. Police also confiscated false identification and social security cards, and $7,000 in U.S. currency.
Â Â Â Police believe this theft may be part of a larger network of crimes involving the resale of baby formula on the black market. Thieves typically sell the formula to a middleman for a fraction of the retail price, which can be as much as $24 for a 24 oz. can. The middleman then turns around and sells the product again for a â€œdiscounted priceâ€? at flea markets, swap meets or â€œshady storefrontsâ€? in the U.S. and Mexico. In a recent survey conducted by the Food Marketing Institute, powdered baby formulas ranked seventh and eighth on a list of the 50 most stolen items in the U.S. retail market. Formula theft alone accounted for $7 billion in retail losses nationwide.
Â Â Â A major concern is the threat this crime poses to babies and infants. Stolen formula is often improperly stored and sold past its expiration date, circumstances that affect the quality and nutrition of the formula. Parents who purchase formula at drastically reduced prices from illegitimate sales sources may unwittingly be putting their childrenâ€™s health at risk.
Â Â According to Lt. Chris Staley of the SLO Police Department, authorities here faced a similar incident about a year and a half ago, when a group of people was caught transporting a carload of stolen formula to Los Angeles. â€œWeâ€™re on a main highway connecting the state, which makes us especially susceptible to this kind of theft,â€? says Staley. He notes the prior thieves had been working their way through the state, collecting goods theyâ€™d stolen from various retail outlets.
Â Police were unable to locate a vehicle connected to Saturdayâ€™s crime. The four thieves, who claimed to have arrived in SLO by bus, were released on bail earlier this week. Though a court date has been set, Staley says itâ€™s unlikely that authorities here will ever hear from them again.