As you prepare for implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act regulations and regular inspection of your pet food facility, you may be crossing your fingers and hoping your number doesn’t come up for quite some time. However, what if one of your consumers files a report with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)?

In my experience, it is becoming more and more commonplace to hear from a consumer after they have already reported their concern to FDA. While the issue that they experienced may or may not be related to the food or treat that they were feeding, once FDA is alerted, you are more likely to at least hear from them, if not see them on your doorstep.

While a visit from FDA may bring fear to your heart, it does not necessarily need to have this effect. Taking proper steps to capture and manage consumer complaints is one of the important features of proper preparation.

When dealing with an FDA contact initiated by a consumer complaint, ensure that you have all of the information captured in a detailed, organized system. There are numerous platforms for capturing the data in your customer support department from consumer contacts. Documenting the steps taken to fully investigate a reported issue and eliminate the food as a possible cause will go a long way to demonstrate that your due diligence is more than adequate. This can be often be handled solely by your customer support team, particularly if you have veterinarians involved with your customer support. However, if you do not have a veterinarian or pet health professional on your team, consider outsourcing veterinary review for more difficult or complex cases so you have an official report.

Key factors to consider when investigating a potential food safety or quality issue include:

  • Contact information for the consumer;
  • Lot/batch information if available;
  • Review of quality and safety test results for that batch;
  • Documentation that there is only one reported issue on a particular batch;
  • Contact information for the veterinarian who treated the pet if there is one;
  • Collection and documented review of veterinary records, including notes from conversations with the treating veterinarian;
  • Formal conclusion from the customer support team investigating the issue;
  • Steps taken to resolve the issue with the consumer;
  • Report to the management team if there is a conclusion that the food was or could have been the cause of the issue.

You likely have heard more than once the following quote: “My vet said that the food made my dog sick.” In my 10-plus years of veterinary customer support, I have found that this is rarely the case. Often the vet suggests that the consumer contact the manufacturer to make sure there are not any known product issues. Or, the vet says, “It could be something that Fido ate.” The consumer often concludes that this must be the food because Fido would NEVER eat anything he wasn’t supposed to. It is always fun to read the veterinary records that state things like the following:

  • Patient has a history of eating socks;
  • Patient got into the garbage prior to presenting for vomiting;
  • Patient was offered steak and mashed potatoes because he would not eat his dog food;
  • Patient’s diet was changed to a new food two days prior to symptoms beginning;
  • Patient had exploratory surgery and five rocks were removed from the intestines.

I am sure you can come up with any variety of other examples of alternate explanations besides a food quality or safety issue that caused the illness.

With the ease of reporting an issue to FDA, consumers will continue to self-report. It is up to pet food manufacturers to ensure that a system is in place to investigate and resolve issues in a thorough and satisfactory manner.

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