Unfortunately, this is not a single event. The number of pet food recalls is on the rise, in part because of increased testing of pet foods for Salmonella. This pathogen is of special concern, not just because it can make pets sick but also because people can become infected after handling pet food or feces that contain the organisms. Recalls do help protect public and animal health, but they really are a measure of last resort. After all, these foods are already in people’s homes — dogs and cats have been eating them and their owners have been handling them. As of yet, there have been no reports of illness associated with this most recent recall. Let’s hope that doesn’t change.

Recalls are indicative of multiple failures throughout the supply, manufacturing, and distribution chain. Best practices should ensure that ingredients used in making pet food only come from countries with trustworthy regulatory practices (think back to the melamine debacle of 2007). Domestic and international ingredient suppliers must have excellent purity standards in place, but the pet food manufacturer is ultimately responsible for the quality of the ingredients used to make its products.

Here’s an example: An article published in the January 2010 issue of Consumer Reports noted that 14 percent of 382 chickens bought from more than 100 stores in 22 states were contaminated with Salmonella. I think it’s safe to assume that much of the chicken entering a pet food facility is also contaminated. The bacteria are killed and rendered harmless during appropriate cooking/manufacturing processes, but Salmonella can be spread through the air. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that raw ingredients are completely separated from the finished product to prevent cross contamination.

Quality control is crucial for incoming ingredients during the manufacturing process and for outgoing pet food. Did you know that many pet foods are not made by the brand name that is associated with them? These companies hire other producers to make their products for them. Contracting out the manufacturing of pet foods makes quality assurance difficult. Pet food companies that make foods in their own facilities have much greater control over the process.

Because mistakes are always possible, companies should test their finished foods and not ship them until after results prove that the products are safe. All-encompassing quality control is time consuming and expensive but necessary to protect the health and well being of pets and people. Unsure of where the company that makes your pet’s food stands? Go to their website or call them and see what they have to say about their quality and safety standards.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Thinkstock