A recent visit to pick up my order of pet food resulted in disclosure of a potential problem that could be playing a role in the raw pet food recalls. How consumers and independent retailers can help fix the problem.
My pets (2 dogs, 3 cats) eat a combination of home prepared cooked food and raw commercial food. Every couple of weeks, I visit a nearby independent pet food store/grooming shop to pick up my order of raw pet food. This store isn’t big, it’s business is mostly grooming. The owner truly cares – which is why I make an effort to give her my business.
When we arrived at the shop this week, a large tractor-trailer rig was parked directly in front of the store. As we walked past the truck, I noticed pallets of pet food in the trailer. Not giving much attention to the truck at the time, we entered the store and the owner said…”oh, your pet food is being delivered right now”.
And then I realized something…the delivery trailer was not refrigerated. This is south Florida. I ordered a frozen raw pet food. Bad combination.
I asked the driver “is your trailer refrigerated?” “No.”
I walked out to the parking lot and sitting inside the trailer was a large blue tub – similar to this…
There was no lid, no smoke from dry ice coming from the container. Concern. I repeat – this is south Florida, in May.
As the driver hurried to get away from the crazy pet food lady snooping around his trailer and asking questions (not his fault, he was just doing his job) – my mind was racing. Is this the standard delivery method of frozen pet foods within pet food distributors? Is this part of the problem with raw pet food recalls? Who’s responsibility is it to keep the pet food frozen from distributor to retailer?
In speaking with numerous independent pet food retailers over the years, I’ve been told that State Department of Agriculture representatives coming into their stores have often “dug around” in pet store freezers – appearing to be looking for something specific to test. Were they looking for signs of a pet food that was thawed during delivery from the distributor to the store (ice build up on outside of the package)? Were these thawed and re-frozen pet foods the ones that tested positive for bacteria and recalled?
I’ve since spoken with a couple of raw pet food manufacturers (including the manufacturer of the food I purchased) and I’ve since spoken with several retailers. Here’s what I’ve learned and how all raw pet food consumers and retailers can help…
- It is standard for raw pet food manufacturers to have a contract with distribution companies that includes a requirement (of the distributor) to maintain the pet food as fully frozen through delivery at the pet food store. (If you are a raw pet food manufacturer or produce a cooked sold frozen pet food and you don’t have this requirement in your contract – change your contract.)
- It is standard for frozen pet food products (and some human food products) to be delivered in insulated containers (such as image above) packed within dry ice within un-refrigerated trailers.
Every link in the chain holds a responsibility role in delivering a safe, quality pet food that you will provide your pet.
- The manufacturer’s responsibility includes producing a wholesome product, sourced from quality ingredients, labeled correctly, and with a frozen pet food – it is the manufacturer’s responsibility to deliver the pet food to distribution companies fully frozen. It is the manufacturer’s responsibility to have a contract with the distributor specifying the temperature the pet food must be maintained at through delivery to the pet food store.
- It is the distributor’s responsibility to hold the pet food in cold storage freezers, and deliver the products to retail outlets in insulated tubs with sufficient dry ice to maintain fully frozen products. A thermometer should be in the insulated tub to assure proper temperature is maintained.
- It is the retailer’s responsibility to accept only fully frozen pet foods. If there is any doubt the pet foods are not fully frozen, the retailer can ask to see the thermometer in the insulated tub within the trailer, view the tub to assure the pet foods were kept on dry ice. Should proper temperature not be maintained, the retailer can (should) reject the delivery and notify the manufacturer that the distributor did not deliver the pet food frozen (this part is very important – to alert the manufacturer that their distributor is not properly delivering the pet food per the contract).
- And it is the pet food consumer responsibility to place the newly purchased frozen pet food into a travel cooler for transportation home.
While I hate to admit it, I made the mistake of assuming my order of raw pet food was delivered to the retail store in refrigerated trucks, fully frozen, safe and sound from distributor to the store. I assumed every link in the chain was holding up their end of the responsibility of a frozen pet food product. I always held up my end of the responsibility by bringing my travel cooler with me to the pet food store – and promptly delivering my purchase home. But…I never thought that others in the responsibility chain were not doing their part. Experienced retailers reading this are probably thinking ‘how could you not know?’ Agreed. I should have thought this thru better. I should have asked questions. Lesson learned.
Learn from my mistake. Talk to your pet food retailer – ask if they check the temperature in the tub of every frozen pet food delivery. Ask if they checked the pet food was held on sufficient amounts of dry ice. You’ll learn from this conversation just how skilled many retailers are (which will make you love them/trust them even more). I’ve heard stories from retailers of refusing thawed products time and time again. And just maybe, by asking questions of your retailer about the temperature of the frozen pet foods delivered to the store – you might be educating a somewhat inexperienced frozen pet food retailer that thought just like me, just like the store I purchased from. Just maybe by you the consumer asking questions, you might help prevent a thawed pet food from being re-frozen, sold to another consumer, possibly making a pet sick or resulting in a recall.
One more thing…
Don’t let my experience make you squeamish about the safety of raw or frozen cooked pet foods. Consider this…all frozen pet food products are delivered in insulated tubs, hopefully with lots of dry ice, within an un-refrigerated delivery truck. But kibble pet foods and canned pet foods are NOT delivered in insulated tubs – they are commonly delivered in un-refrigerated trailers, fully exposed to hot temperatures within the trailer. With high temperatures in a delivery trailer, nutrients are damaged – fats can go rancid. A similar risk exists for all styles of pet food exposed to high temperatures within a delivery trailer. At least with frozen products, consumers have the insulated tub (and hopefully lots of dry ice) to protect the integrity of the pet food.
This paragraph added after original posting: Another thing to consider with kibble and canned foods – a seasoned industry insider shared “Not one single pet food distributor or manufacture has air conditioned warehouses. From the time it’s made to the time it gets to a pet store it is either on a truck or in a warehouse that isn’t climate controlled. Only the refrigerated and frozen foods are.”
And…my order of raw pet food was thawed, but just slightly. I was not concerned. The pet food went immediately into my travel cooler and we headed home. My wonderful retailer – who I will return to – learned this lesson along with me. We both didn’t think things through, didn’t ask questions before – but we both will from now on.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
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