Is Pet Food History Repeating Itself?
Though we might not be provided with a full explanation as to how/why so many brands of pet food were recalled due to possible Salmonella contamination, we can look back into recent pet food recall history for some disturbing connections.
In 2008 Mars Petcare announced numerous recalls due to ‘potential contamination with Salmonella’. The pet foods recalled, from Ol’ Roy to Pedigree to lesser known and private label brands, were all manufactured at a Mars Petcare facility in Everson, PA. Thanks to modern science, health experts can sort of ‘fingerprint’ Salmonella strains and connect the dots, so to speak, to discover the source of particular strains. And this was the case with these Mars Petcare recalls.
From a 2010 post by The Food Bug Lady – Phyllis Entis – we learned that in 2006 a small number of human infections caused by Salmonella Schwarzengrund occurred. In May 2007, the identical strain of Salmonella surfaced again and an association was determined between sick individuals to exposure to dogs. By the end of 2008, 79 people were diagnosed with the same Salmonella strain.
Tests done on raw materials of pet foods showed negative results. Further, the FDA found that the Mars Petcare facility followed proper cooking procedure of the pet foods which was sufficient to kill Salmonella. But, of 144 test samples taken from the Everson, PA manufacturing facility, one test told the story. “The outbreak strain was isolated from 1 of 144 plant X swab samples. The positive swab was taken from the enrobing/flavoring room, where material was sprayed onto the surface of the finished product to enhance palatability before bagging.”
To explain, below is a diagram from the Pet Food Institute website (lobby organization representing Big Pet Food) that explains the manufacturing process of a kibble food….
Step one, dry and wet ingredients may be ground, and then mixed together to form pet food dough.
Step two, the pet food dough is “preconditioned” by heat and steam.
Step three, the extrusion process is where the dough is forced through a channel with what looks similar to a giant screw in the middle. The pet food dough is cooked using heat and pressure. At the end of the extruder hot pet food dough passes through a shaping die and knife which produces wet pieces of kibble.
Step four, the kibble is then dried using heat.
Step five, a coating of flavoring and or probiotics are sprayed onto the dried kibble.
Step six, the kibble is packaged into bags.
Step five was the culprit in this 2008 Mars Petcare series of recalls.
Following these recalls, the FDA increased testing for Salmonella of pet food which resulted in a few more recalls within the next several months. If history repeats itself with the FDA, we can more than likely expect the FDA to increase testing for Salmonella in all varieties of pet foods soon which could result in more recalls.
We know for certain that the 2008 Salmonella pet food recalls were linked to flavoring ingredients. All of the varieties of pet foods in these recent 2012 Salmonella recalls contain ‘natural flavoring’ (listed on the ingredient panel as natural flavor, natural chicken flavor, and so forth) as well. What is – exactly – natural flavor? We don’t know. Every pet food manufacturer that I have asked to provide the ingredients that make up the ingredient ‘natural flavor’ will not provide the information; they have all stated this is proprietary information.
In both the 2008 Mars Petcare recalls and in the 2012 Diamond manufactured recalls, human illness appears to have played a role in the announcement of recalled pet foods. In 2008, Mars Petcare made the statement that they were alerted of a possible Salmonella contamination from healthcare officials notifying them of human illness believed to be linked to the pet foods. Shortly after these Diamond manufactured foods recalls began in early April, we learned from the Center for Disease Control that human illness was linked to these pet foods as well.
And finally, another discouraging connection between the Salmonella recalls of 2008 to these recent 2012 Salmonella pet food recalls, the initial press releases published by the pet food companies stated no pets have become ill.
2008…”no direct link between product produced at Everson and human or pet illness has been made”
2012…”No dog illnesses have been reported.”
Food Safety News recently discussed this issue of ‘no dog illnesses being reported’ for the 2012 recalls. Unlike human illnesses being traced and linked to the source by the Center for Disease Control, pet food has no such system.
With any commercial pet food, as with many human foods, take proper precautions when handling the food. Watch your pet closely, if any signs of illness or refusing food occurs, consult your veterinarian.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
What’s in Your Pet’s Food?
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