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A Deeper Look at Dog Food Recalls

One of the worst things you can hear as a consumer is that a product you have previously purchased is being recalled by the manufacturer.

This is especially true when it comes to products that directly impact the health of our beloved dogs. Unfortunately, dog food recalls are not completely uncommon. Defects in dog food are not always the fault. Sometimes, the root of a recall is at the ingredient supplier level, resulting in the recall of multiple brands and products. Let’s explore these alarming recalls and why they are continuing to happen today.

Why Do Recalls Happen?

When dog food gets recalled, it’s usually because it poses a serious health risk to either pets or their owners. A recent study that looks at the past 10 years of pet food recalls shows us that the majority of recalls are occurring due to contamination from pathogenic bacteria, most notably Salmonella, Campylobacter, Listeria, and E. Coli. There is a 0 tolerance for these bacteria in dog food and manufacturers should screen for them before distribution

While these nasty bacteria may pose a smaller risk to dogs, it is actually the human owners who are at the greatest risk of getting sick as a result of handling the contaminated food and cleaning up backyard poops that have been tainted with the bacterium. Dog food may become contaminated with bacteria and pathogens before distribution but food is also at high risk of contamination if it is not properly handled or stored by owners during feeding.

Another common instance of dog food recalls during the 10 year period occurred due to insufficient or excess vitamins / minerals. Pet food formulation is a delicate balance. When in excess, micronutrients like vitamins and minerals can become toxic and negatively affect multiple organ systems. However, too little micronutrients and dogs can become malnourished, halting growth and regular body functions.

The last common cause of recalls are due to mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are the result of fungal/mold growth on plant products that can make dogs very sick and in high enough doses even cause death. The most common mycotoxins responsible for recalls are Aflatoxin, Fumonisin and Deoxynivalenol (also called vomitoxin). There is no maximum limit set by the FDA for mycotoxins but most manufactures still screen for contamination.

A less common cause for dog food recalls is foreign particulate matter and chemical contamination. This is usually caused by carelessness on the part of the manufacturer or suppliers. In some cases, harmful chemicals are even added on purpose to boost the appearance of certain nutrients like protein.

For instance, in 2007 there was a major recall on multiple brands and products of pet food. This was due to several reported pet deaths due to kidney failure. It was found that the culprit was contamination of a chemical called melamine, a chemical used in plastic processing and has no business in pet food. This was not the fault of the manufacturers but rather a Chinese ingredient supplier for wheat gluten. The ingredient supplier was adding melamine to the wheat gluten in order to falsely boost the apparent protein content of the product. Unfortunately, the tainted wheat gluten was unknowingly purchased by a number of North American and European pet food manufacturers, resulting in multiple recalls, sick pets and pet deaths. To date, the 2007 melamine incident is one of the largest recalls of pet food. If you would like to learn more about the melamine recall, click here.

Why are these recalls happening so frequently? 

The truth is that the pet food industry is not a highly-regulated environment. There are no federal regulations in Canada that govern the billion pet food industry. The CFIA, or Canadian Food Inspection Agency, states that “Pet food safety and hygiene are the responsibility of the pet food manufacturers”. This has led to questionable manufacturing processes and ingredients that are purchased from the lowest bidder regardless of their quality. It’s actually up to the manufacturers to voluntarily recall any food that is not suitable for pets. That means tainted food can sit on shelves for months until the manufacturer decides to take action.

What is the most common type of dog food that gets recalled?

It is important to remember that EVERY type of dog food is subject to being recalled, even the most trusted brands. This is especially true because it is not always due to a careless manufacturer but is just an unfortunate accident. 

With that said, there is still a disproportionate amount of raw food being recalled compared to other types of food. This is due to a combination of the high moisture content and lack of cooking in the raw food process. Heating and cooking kills bacteria, a safety step that raw food manufacturing skips which leaves it at greater risk of microbial contamination. The high moisture content also creates a favourable environment for bacteria and fungal growth. Bacteria in raw food poses only a low risk to dogs but there is a safety issue when it comes to the dog’s human families as they can get sick from handling their dog’s contaminated food and even from their dog’s saliva. 

What should pet food companies do to reduce the risk of a recall?

Testing! Quality assurance and food safety testing should be done frequently on a batch to batch basis. Food should be screened for microbial contamination, mycotoxins and nutrient analysis. Furthermore, manufactures should source from reputable suppliers who do sufficient quality assurance testing on their ingredients. Ultimately, dog food should be monitored at the incoming ingredient level, cooking/processing level and the pre-distribution level. It is also beneficial for manufacturers to complete shelf life testing, in order to determine how long their product is safe under optimal storage conditions. 

Manufacturers should build a fundamental and robust food safety program, however, in the event of a recall, manufacturers need to have a recall plan in place. Companies never want to take too long to issue a recall but also do not want to recall too early only to find out it was a false positive afterward. 

A successful recall is considered when the root of the problem is determined, fixed and 100% of the product is recovered. Pet food companies need to be transparent with customers about the problems with their product and address changes that they are making to better their product in the future.

How can I find out more about recalls and keep up to date with current ones?

The best thing to do is to be aware of product recalls. Recalls can either be found on the FDA website or you can also sign up for the Dog Food Advisor recall alert on their website.

View Sources

Sources:

  1. “Consumer Trends Pet Food in Canada.” Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, www.agr.gc.ca/resources/prod/Internet-Internet/MISB-DGSIM/ATS-SEA/PDF/6245-eng.pdf.
  2. Phillips-Donaldson, Debbie, and Debbie Phillips-Donaldson. “Global Pet Food Sales Hit $91 Billion in 2018.” PetfoodIndustry.com, PetfoodIndustry.com, 5 Mar. 2019, www.petfoodindustry.com/articles/7899-global-pet-food-sales-hit-91-billion-in-2018.
  3. FDA. “Recalls and Withdrawls” (2021). https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/safety-health/recalls-withdrawals
  4. World Health Organization (WHO). “Botulism” (2018). https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/botulism#:~:text=The%20botulinum%20toxin%20has%20been,such%20as%20ham%20and%20sausage.
  5. FDA. “Limited Production of Two Varieties of Milo’s Kitchen® Dog Treats Voluntarily Recalled Due to Potentially Elevated Levels of Thyroid Hormone” (2020). https://www.fda.gov/safety/recalls-market-withdrawals-safety-alerts/limited-production-two-varieties-milos-kitchenr-dog-treats-voluntarily-recalled-due-potentially#:~:text=The%20J.M.%20Smucker%20Company%20today,levels%20of%20beef%20thyroid%20hormone.
  6. Food Safety News (FSN). “Canned dog food recalled for elevated beef thyroid hormone” (2018). https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2018/06/canned-dog-food-recalled-for-elevated-beef-thyroid-hormone/#:~:text=Dave's%20Pet%20Food%20has%20recalled,a%20UPC%20of%2085038%2D11167.
  7. FDA. “Get the Facts about Salmonella”. (2020). https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/get-facts-about-salmonella
  8. FDA. “United Pet Group Expands Voluntary Recall of Multiple Brands of Rawhide Chew Products for Dogs to Also Include Private Label Brands Due to Possible Chemical Contamination” (2018). https://www.fda.gov/safety/recalls-market-withdrawals-safety-alerts/united-pet-group-expands-voluntary-recall-multiple-brands-rawhide-chew-products-dogs-also-include
  9. Dog Food Advisor. ""Recalls" (2021). https://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/dog-food-recall
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