The FDA has released results of their investigation at the Diamond Pet Foods plant in Gaston, South Carolina. The government found several issues and violations of food safety laws. Some of the food produced at that plant have been linked to an outbreak of Salmonella food poisoning in nine states and Canada that has sickened at least 15 people.
After reports of Salmonella Infantis illnesses were reported to authorities, public health officials started an investigation. The common thread among all the patients was contact with dry pet food. Testing found Salmonella in dry dog food, so recalls of several brands of pet food were issued over the course of a couple of weeks.
On April 12, FDA inspectors examined the plant in question. The report states that the company was not taking “all reasonable precautions to ensure that production procedures do not contribute contamination from any source.”
The report states four observations about safety failures at the plant.
- No microbiological analysis was conducted to ensure that animal fat would not introduce pathogens and cause contamination of the finished product. An employee was seen touching equipment with bare hands, which can introduce pathogens.
- The company did not provide hand washing and hand sanitizing facilities where needed in the plant, especially where there was direct contact with exposed finished food.
- The facility did not maintain equipment, containers, and utensils. Paddles had gouges and cuts that held feed residues. The damage can harbor microorganisms and make the utensils difficult to sanitize.
- Failure to maintain equipment so it could be cleaned. The facility had cardboard, duct tape, and other “non cleanable surfaces” on equipment. And those materials contained food residue.
The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act “requires that all animal foods, like human foods, be safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, contain no harmful substances, and be truthfully labeled.” The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010 (FSMA) requires that pet food manufacturing facilities must comply with a Preventative Control Rule and submit a written food safety plan called Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) to ensure that the food they produce is safe. But pet food manufacturers are not required to implement those plans until the government finalizes the rule published in FSMA, which hasn’t happened. Many manufacturers have the plans in place.
The agency is developing separate rules for human food and animal food; for instance, controlling for allergens in pet food won’t be required, since animals do not experience severe food allergy reactions.
Michael R. Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Foods at the USDA, recently addressed the Pet Food Forum in Schaumburg, Illinois. Mr. Taylor said, “many people don’t realize that the basic principles of food safety apply to their pet’s food too. We advise consumers on foodsafety.gov that they should wash their hands after handling pet food.”
Anyone can report a pet food complaint to the FDA. Consumers and veterinarians are encouraged to make a report when pets become sick and contaminated food is suspected.