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Pet Food Manufacturers and Food Safety Documentation: Why It Matters

Fido is more than man's best friend, he is family now. Many pets like dogs and cats are now more like family to many that own them. We rely on pet food companies to make the food that we feed our pets. For the purpose of this article, we will be focusing on the regulation and practices of the pet food industry and not livestock feed.


Commercial pet food has diversified exponentially in the last several years with the expansion into fresh and raw food as well as pet food mail delivery options. Let's take a look into the regulations that have been established for pet food, what recalls have happened, as well as where regulations could go in the future. Before we can look to the future let's understand where pet food started and the need for more regulation and documentation.


Pet Food History

Dogs and cats used to just be fed whatever was left over from when the owners ate. The first commercially available pet became available in England in approximately 1860. Pet nutrition and understanding of animal science played a role in creating unique foods to meet dietary needs1. As awareness about proper pet nutrition has expanded, consumers demanded manufactured pet food that was in alignment with the pet's natural diet. Now when you go to pet supply stores there are a plethora of options to choose from. You have dry kibble, canned, freeze-dried, fresh, and raw food for both cats and dogs to accomodate these diets.


Pet Food Regulations and Standards

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) makes the FDA responsible for making sure food for both people and animals is safe, manufactured correctly, and properly labeled1. The additional requirements that are set out by FSMA mandate that animal food facilities have a food safety plan. This is similar to the ones required by food facilities where it includes a hazard analysis and preventative controls1. Furthermore, registered animal food facilities must also follow good manufacturing practices (GMPs)2.


One of the FDA’s hardest requirements is that the ingredients that are in dog food must meet The GRAS standards. For a substance to be GRAS, there must have a “general recognition of safety” established by qualified experts that agree that the substance is safe when added to food. There are two ways that General recognition of safety must be obtained either:

  • “Experience based on common use in food. There must be information to prove that the substance has been commonly used in food for animals since before 1958, with a lengthy and known history of a significant number of animals consuming the food; or

  • Scientific procedures. These procedures require the same quality and quantity of scientific data needed for FDA to approve a food additive petition. Also, the data must be published in the scientific literature or a similarly trusted source such as a textbook. Data in a company’s annual report do not meet this standard.”2

Outside of federal regulation, there is an organization that helps shape pet food regulations is the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). AFCO is not a regulatory authority but does play an advisory role to the FDA. There is also a GFSI module standard for pet food in SQF.

The SQF certification is similar to that for human food but it is tailored to reference the pet food industry. This means that the module covers food safety culture, preparation, processing, handling and training, and other aspects of processing that impact the safety of pet food. Just as with human food being SQF certified brings many benefits; which include having a way to show your customers your commitment to producing safe food for their pets, showing regulations that you have assessed and determined risks and have a plan to mitigate them, and can open up opportunities to sell product nationally and internationally3.


Supplier Chain for Pet Food

With the emergence of fresh and raw pet food, the supplier chain is imperative to produce a safe product for our pets. When looking at recalls in the last four years the majority of recalls done by the FDA are for biological contaminations. Pets are just as susceptible to Salmonella and Listeria as humans are. Especially with raw meat and vegetables being the major components in raw dog and cat food, there are specific human food regulations that should be followed for these high-risk foods. FSAM 204 specifically targets fresh vegetables for human consumption so why not have it cover fresh vegetables for our pets?


Examples of what you should be asking for and tracking to document food safety in pet food ingredients would be Product Specification sheets, Country of Origin, Lot Code Explanations, and GFSI certificates to name a few. This will ensure that the ingredients that you are using to make pet food in your facility are made in a safe way just as you are making it!


Why start now and not wait

Federal and 3rd party regulation is not as robust for dog and cat food as it is for human food but with the raw and fresh food section expanding the need for better pet food regulation. With SQF already coming out with a module for pet food should mean that we should be on the lookout for more defined regulations in the future. Setting up your facility ahead of regulation being put into place not only takes stress off of your program in the future, but shows your customers that your company has a commitment to manufacturing food to a higher standard.


If you want to start improving your supplier approval program Document Compliance Network makes it simple, easy, and convenient. Our software will automatically request documents for you and you can sit back and watch as you become audit ready!



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