Brad Madson is a Minnesota cat owner who wants his kitty, Minnie Mae Kickstand, to get the best nutrition possible. His feline, known as Kiki, has feline leukemia, so the retired professional sports executive is careful when it comes to what he feeds her. Brad was surprised when a local pet food company announced a recall of some of its products. “I immediately checked my cat’s food,” he says. “You buy pet food thinking that what you’re buying is safe, so this was a little alarming.”
Brad knows mistakes happen. Recalls can be a pet food company’s worst nightmare. Often it’s because something goes wrong during the manufacturing process. Go to the Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Veterinary Medicine website, and you’ll find plenty of cat food recalls, where everything from salmonella to harmful toxins are to blame for food being pulled off the shelves.
Anne Norris of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine monitors recalls and says they happen “when a product violates federal laws and needs immediate legal action.”
She says recalls happen in three ways:
- the company pulled the product on its own
- the product is pulled by formal FDA request
- the product is pulled by an FDA order under the agency’s mandatory recall authority
FDA recalls are classified into three categories:
❊ Class I is where there is a strong likelihood that use or exposure to a product will cause serious health consequences or death
❊ Class II is when a product may cause temporary or medically reversible health issues or where the probability of serious consequences is remote
❊ Class III is a situation where the product in question is not likely to cause adverse health consequences.
Dana Brooks, president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Pet Food Institute (PFI), says the FDA has never forced a mandatory recall. The PFI is made up of pet food manufacturers throughout the United States. Dana says, “Most recalls happen when a company identifies a problem in the manufacturing process that can lead to an issue, such as a mislabeled product or ingredient imbalance.” She believes most pet food makers have a safety plan that regularly evaluates and identifies safety hazards that have the potential to occur, such as bacterial contamination due to Salmonella or E.coli.
Getting recall information is easy
It’s easy for cat owners to find out the latest cat food recalls. The FDA works with industry and state partners to publish press releases and other public notices to try to get information to pet owners as soon as possible. The government agency only announces Class I or Class II recalls. You can sign up on its website (see left sidebar) to get email alerts and always be in the know.
The federal government also requires manufacturers to announce their pet food recalls, which means they must contact their ingredient suppliers, distributors, retailers and any customers in their database.
Kitty’s food is recalled: now what?
Got a recalled product? Government experts say to stop feeding the product right away and check the lot number and UPC code on the label to confirm if your food is part of the recall. (All recalls on the FDA’s website list exact UPC codes and lot codes.) If you regularly take kitty’s food out of the bag and place it in another container, cut out the lot number and UPC code and keep so you can refer to it.
If the food is part of the recall, watch your cat closely for symptoms. PFI experts also suggest calling the pet food company directly about what to do next. The retailer where you purchased the food should also have information on how to handle the recall and answers addressing your concerns.
Be an advocate for kitty!
Of course, don’t wait for a recall if you’re concerned about the pet food you just bought. Dana says most of her members welcome customer complaints and concerns, including issues like unsealed packaging, strange smells or symptoms your cat exhibits after eating the product. “When a food doesn’t meet expectations, this information helps them identify trends and possible issues with food safety. It helps them improve product quality.”
If you find the company is not responsive, the FDA also has a page on its website where consumers and veterinarians can submit concerns about pet food products, which FDA officials always investigate.
Got a recalled product? Government experts say to stop feeding the product right away and make sure you check the lot number and UPC code on the label to confirm if your food is part of the recall.
Since 2017, the FDA has recalled more than 130 brands of pet food, with 21 recalls in 2021. The recalled manufacturers involved range from some of the most well-known foods to lesser-known smaller brands. In looking at FDA data, many of the recalls are due to salmonella and listeria contaminants as well as elevated levels of harmful toxins. Sterility issues are also cited as a factor. Many of the recalls were initiated by the companies themselves.
Dana believes transparency is a requirement for manufacturers in the pet food industry. With a more knowledgeable consumer base and the humanization of pets as family members, “pet owners are increasingly wanting more information and assurances from their favorite brands. They have to talk about their food safety culture to make pet owners feel confident when they set out the bowl at mealtime.”
When Brad checked out the FDA’s website, he was surprised to see many well-known brands have been recalled in the past. “These things happen, but I have faith in the government’s regulatory system. While it’s scary to see your cat’s food recalled, at least you know the mistake was caught and action is being taken right away. That gives me peace of mind as a cat owner.”
RECALLS: Get informed!
To see the latest pet food recalls: fda.gov/animal-veterinary/safety-health/recalls-withdrawals
To receive FDA alerts about pet food recalls: public.govdelivery.com/accounts/USFDA/subscriber/new
To submit a concern to the FDA: fda.gov/animal-veterinary/report-problem/how-report-pet-food-complaint