Food & Nutrition
Print|Email|Text Size: ||
Dog Food Watch: Recalls

Pet-food safety advocates wondered if the FDA was exerting more muscle on domestic manufacturers to make up for their foot-dragging on Chinese jerky. Then the recalls moved into the raw-food realm. The first, also in February, involved Honest Kitchen’s recall of limited lots of Verve®, Zeal® and Thrive® products. Honest Kitchen has a transparent, consumer-friendly approach to their food sourcing, and in their recall notice, founder and CEO Lucy Postins noted that “the Company is taking this action after learning that one of its raw ingredients suppliers has recalled a batch of human-grade parsley that may contain salmonella.” The parsley— which had come with a certificate of analysis from the supplier attesting that it was pathogen-free—had been used in the production of five lots of finished products.

While most of Honest Kitchen’s rawfood sources are in North America, they also get some produce from Europe and exotic fruits from Asia. Surprisingly, they get their parsley from Egypt. Yearround availability of organic and/or human-grade ingredients at a reasonable price is one of the challenges faced by smaller food manufacturers like Honest Kitchen, and is the reason for this wide-ranging sourcing.

Since this incident, Honest Kitchen has switched to another parsley supplier (also in Egypt) and added a new step to their processing of dried herbs and leafy greens, treating them with a gentle steam sterilization to protect against microbial pathogens.

More raw food companies were hit with recalls in March, when the Minnesota State Department of Agriculture found salmonella, first in Steve’s Real Food Turducken patties, and a week later in a two-pound tube of Bravo! Chicken Blend raw frozen food diet the agency had purchased from a local pet store.* I talked with veterinarian Heidi Kassenborg, director of Dairy and Food Inspections for Minnesota, to get a better idea about her state’s pathogen inspection process.

Many have observed that while salmonella is the most prevalent foodborne pathogen, few dogs actually become ill from it, and I asked her why the FDA and her agency have such a strong concern about its presence in pet food. She explained that they are charged with finding adulterants in food, and “in food items, salmonella is considered to be an adulterant.” As for the USDA’s salmonella-tolerance level for raw poultry (now at 7.5 percent, down from 20 percent in 1996), she confirmed that “in raw food, like poultry and beef, it is not considered to be an adulterant.” Basically, there is no tolerance for adulterants in finished food items, and even raw diet is considered a “food item.”

Kassenborg explained the high concern about pet food, saying that since pet food is handled by humans, they are exposed to any pathogens that may be in it; these pathogens can also be excreted in the pet’s stool. Given that salmonella can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, the frail or elderly, and those with weakened immune systems, this is indeed a compelling reason for concern.

She went on to say that there would be increased surveillance now that raw diet has tested positive for pathogens. “Once things are found in one food type, they start looking at it and testing more. We have an obligation to find out if it is a widespread problem. And if so, is there a way to produce it better without it becoming contaminated?”

Doug Lueders, supervisor of Minnesota’s Commercial Feed Regulatory Program and the person responsible for its product-sampling plan, concurs. “If we have a category that has had few [contaminants] or none, we may switch our emphasis to one where we have had a problem. I think we will raise the percentage [of resources] that we have devoted to raw in the past; that, however, will be at the expense of something else.”

CommentsPost a Comment
Please note comments are moderated. After being approved your comment will appear below.
Submitted by Frances | June 8 2013 |

I would expect anyone handling raw meat - whether direct from the local butcher or a frozen complete dog food - to take the basic hygiene precautions we were all taught as children. Avoid cross contamination, wash hands and implements well, etc, etc, with additional, more stringent precautions if anyone in the household is at high risk of infection. Kibble is very definitely another matter altogether, but surely anyone feeding a raw diet should have the sense to know how to handle raw meat?!

Submitted by Anonymous | June 11 2013 |

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a wealth of information pertaining to Claudia's article. Explore the links located on their website. I'll mention a few items:

1. Pet food can make pets and people sick

Pet ownership has many positive benefits. Pets comfort us and give us companionship. But as much as we love animals, there are simple precautions we need to take to keep our family members, including our four-legged members, safe and healthy. Here are some tips to help protect you and your family.

Shopping for your pet? Here are some purchasing tips:

Look at the package:
Buy bagged food with no visible signs of damage to the packaging, such as tears or discolorations.
Avoid buying canned food with dents.
Avoid raw diets for your pets:
CDC recommends against feeding raw food to dogs and cats because of the risk of illness to the pet as well as to people living in the household.

2. Do not feed your pet a raw diet
Here is why:

Raw diets consist of foods such as meat, poultry, milk, and eggs that have not been cooked or treated to remove harmful germs.
These food items can carry harmful bacteria including Salmonella and Campylobacter.


Submitted by Jill Hawley | July 10 2013 |

Just wanted to comment about the comment against raw food.

Raw food is great for keeping your dogs and cat on their natural diet. No grains, extremely low amount of veggies which need to either be lightly cooked or run through the food processor, since dogs don't have the long digestive tract needed to break them down and small amounts of fruit.
Lots of people say that the risk of contamination is too high. Well that's why you take measures to keep them low, such as sanitizing your work area and food bowls, washing your hand. BTW salmonella is found in processed pet food too! Although I haven't heard of any dogs getting sick just the owners.

Next the source of the food is of great importance, hormone free,organic, free range,pastured animals are the best options especially when it comes to liver since it filters out all the bad. You want to make sure that those animals are on their natural diet too, so no grains for them either. Cows eat grass for a reason, so why feed them grain?

Then we have the great debate on bones, don't use bones that are cooked, ever, they will splinter and can cause blockages or perforations. Then you want to make sure you're using none weight bearing bones only as, they will be easy for your dog to digest.

I want to know EXACTLY what is in my pets food and where it came from. Buy local when you can but be sure the food is GMO and hormone free.

And just wanted to add in how unlikely it is for your dog to be the one who gets sick, my dogs used to feed on the carcasses of deer we had hunted then butchered when we lived in the country.

More From The Bark