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Petfood industry members discuss petfood production, safety

A recent roundtable discussion by Natural Pet Product Merchandiser brought together a petfood retailer, two petfood manufacturers and a petfood industry representative to discuss the petfood production and safety, including the impact of a petfood recall and controls to prevent one.

Although the US Food and Drug Administration’s website shows more than 1,000 petfood and treat recalls since March 2007, Nancy K. Cook, vice president of Pet Food Institute, says this should not be a cause for concern to consumers. She says that the large number is due to the fact that the administration lists every petfood recall since it first began posting them, whereas human food recalls are not reported as frequently.

Ron Jackson, assistant to the president of Hi-Tek Rations, says he feels that smaller companies, especially those with their own manufacturing facility, pay greater attention to detail in the manufacturing process, therefore reducing the potential for safety or quality issues. Cook says this is also true of large manufacturers that must ensure the products they sell globally are also safe.

“I am convinced that big and small companies can have high food-safety standards if the company’s leadership is committed to a culture and expectation of clean and safe food,” said Jerel Kwek, co-founder and CEO of Addiction Pet Foods.

From a retailer perspective, Lorin Grow, president and owner of Furry Face, says her company thoroughly researches both the petfood and the manufacturer to ensure the food being sold is safe to eat, as well as continuously reviews ingredient panels to ensure nothing in the petfood formulas has changed.

“We research a food and the manufacturer at length. We want to know the company’s history, how long they’ve been making their foods, where they source their ingredients, who they use to manufacture and package their foods, whether they’ve had any recalls and why, and what steps they take to ensure every ingredient and every process utilized along the way is safe,” Grow says. “When we finally do decide to carry a brand, we never take for granted that things will remain status quo.”

Cook says her organization, Pet Food Institute, assists manufacturers of all sizes in ensuring their products are safe and produced according to all applicable regulations, as well as advises companies on outbreaks of microtoxins to help the companies avoid purchasing ingredients or products from those areas.

At Hi-Tek, Jackson says his company worked with a consultant to improve safety at its plant.

“When you enter our campus, which is about 68 acres, you are surrounded by traps every 10 feet to get any field mice, rodents or anything that might be attracted to the building. When you enter any door, you go through scrubbers to clean your feet, and you get into a uniform and put a hairnet on,” Jackson says. “The founder of our company, Leonard Powell, is fond of saying that the hairnet probably doesn’t save us from very many stray hairs, but it puts every employee in the mindset that we’re making food.”

Hi-Tek also ensures safety in its products through its method of containerization, which allows incoming ingredients to be separated by truckload and batch. An in-house laboratory tests all incoming products prior to unloading from the truck.

Kwek says Addiction’s approach also aims to prevent food safety issues by implementing strict controls in the manufacturing process. He says a quality-assurance team and an in-house laboratory actively identify potential issues prior to the food being shipped.

In addition to these safety measures, many companies also hire a third-party auditor to supplement audits by the Food and Drug Administration and certifying bodies such as the American Institute of Baking. Cook says that under the Food Safety Modernization Act, the frequency of required audits will vary depending on whether a plant is deemed low risk or high risk.

"This industry has safety as its [number] one priority. When you compare human food to petfood, it’s obvious that our products fail much less often than human products do," says Cook. "We’re really lucky that our companion animals are living longer, healthier lives than ever before. An awful lot of that is based on the terrific nutrition that they’re receiving from petfoods that meet the requirements set by AAFCO, and now upcoming by FDA, and through the care of well-trained veterinarians."

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