Doesn’t it seem like we’re experiencing a rash of pet food recalls lately? You probably remember the massive Diamond incident from last year, but ever since then it seems like I’ve been noticing an increase in smaller, but nonetheless worrisome, recalls.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 13 dog and cat food products have already been recalled this year — most because of the possibility of salmonella contamination, but problems with vitamin levels, chemical contaminants, plastic pieces, and antibiotic residues have also been cited. The FDA list includes treats, maintenance diets, frozen foods, patties, raw diets, and even products made from “human-grade” ingredients.

Owners are understandably worried, given the apparent increase in the frequency of recalls, and want to purchase only the safest foods for their animal companions. We all need to keep in mind, however, that reputable manufacturers actually do work very hard to ensure they are producing foods that are nutritious and safe for our pets to eat.

For example, when it comes to controlling salmonella and other potential microbial contaminants, state-of-the-art facilities separate the areas where raw ingredients are received and prepared from the processing and packaging steps that occur after cooking (known as the “kill step,” where potential pathogens are destroyed by heat). Workers must also thoroughly clean their hands and shoes before moving into the finished product area. Ventilation is closely controlled as well because airflow from the raw product to the finished product areas could introduce airborne microbes and contaminate food that is ready to be eaten.

Other important considerations include:

  • Strict enforcement of quality standards for companies that supply ingredients to pet food manufacturers
  • Inspection of suppliers’ facilities
  • Retesting of ingredients upon arrival at the pet food manufacturing plant
  • Maintaining raw ingredients in closed bins and transfer lines
  • Repeated quality checks throughout and at the completion of the manufacturing process

Of course, it is not easy for owners or veterinarians to verify that any/all of these steps are being followed by a pet food manufacturer, but asking just a few questions about a company can provide a lot of pertinent information. Does the company manufacture the majority of their products in their own facilities or outsource the production of their foods? Quality control is easier when a company has control over most of the processes. Is it easy to find information about the safety and quality procedures the company employs in their facilities? What is the company’s overall reputation?

The absence of past recalls is not a guarantee that best practices for food safety are in place and being followed. But by asking their veterinarians or doing a little research on their own, owners should be able to find a manufacturer that puts a priority on making the safest and healthiest pet foods possible.

For more information, take a look at this video produced by the FDA about pet food safety.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Glenda / via Shutterstock