Pet Food Recalls: Dig Deep
Learning everything you can about pet food recalls will make you more informed about what you are and aren’t putting on your shelves, and consumers will turn to you as a trusted resource.
As micro independent business owners, we pride ourselves on knowing the ins and outs of the products we sell. We know who makes the product, where it’s made, and work very hard at keeping track of any changes that might occur. If we don’t like something, we are not going to carry it. Thanks to those high standards, we don’t have to deal with recalls very often.
However, chances are you will have to deal with a product recall at some point. The most important step when one of your trusted brands experiences a product recall is to completely understand what happened.
In the beginning, my pet supply store advertised, “Platinum Paws does not carry products from companies that have had any product recalls!” I continued using that line even after the massive pet food recall of 2007. There were more than 50 brands affected in that recall, and I didn’t have to pull one single item off my shelf. As horrible as that recall was, I always took it as affirmation that my pickiness of products was the way to run a store. One of the reasons I made it through that recall was because I was anti-co-packers. If a manufacturer didn’t make its own foods in its own facility, then it was not a product I was going to sell.
A few years after the 2007 pet food recalls, I had a manufacturer recall a product that was on my shelf. I felt personally betrayed. I never wanted to think I recommended and sold a product that could potentially cause harm to someone’s pet. I immediately discontinued all products from the manufacturer, but that situation made me realize that even with all my “investigations” into a manufacturer, recalls were something I would not be able to avoid in my store. I realized I would have to become much more educated on not only recalls, but manufacturing practices. I started studying all the pet food recalls I could. I looked at recalls for brands I would never carry just to learn the processes and, more important, the failures.
One of the most important investigation tools is U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) form 483, which is “Inspectional Observations.” On form 483, it states “This document lists observations made by the FDA representative(s) during the inspection of your facility. They are inspectional observations, and do not represent a final Agency determination regarding your compliance. If you have an objection regarding an observation, or have implemented, or plan to implement, corrective action in response to an observation, you may discuss the objection or action with the FDA representative(s) during the inspection or submit this information to the FDA …”
The 483 gives me an inside view of the plant. I then can judge the severity of what is reported. I personally believe the 483 is probably the most trustworthy document to come out of a recall. Obviously, a manufacturer is going to try to spin any information released, and I think the FDA also has to spin things to cover itself. There are not always 483s available, or they can be hard to find. Often, they have to be located through a Freedom of Information Act request.
When you get your hands on one, you can make your own decisions based on the observations. For instance, on one 483 it was noted, “Failure to provide hand-washing and hand-sanitizing facilities at each location in the plant where needed.” I don’t know if I’m going to decide not to do business based on that observation alone. If I see an observation state, “Failure to maintain equipment, containers and utensils used to convey, hold and store food in a manner that protects against contamination,” that will get my attention and cause me to dig even further. Unless the information is just overwhelming, I will request a sit-down with the manufacturer to go over all the information I have uncovered. How that meeting goes determines if I’m going to continue to carry that company’s products.
Many years ago, a trusted brand I carried went through a recall for listeria. I didn’t really understand listeria and how it could’ve been prevented, so I reached out to another manufacturer and posed the question about listeria safety. They happily shared what they did, and then I took that information to the meeting with the brand that had the recall. I found out they were not doing one step the other company was doing, and although that step was not mandatory, it seemed like it might have prevented the recall. I kept pushing the manufacturer to try to understand why one company would have certain protocols and another company would have different protocols to prevent contamination of the same pathogen.
The company with the recall actually got frustrated with my questioning and tried to explain that I didn’t know what I was talking about, which I absolutely agreed with. I am certainly not a scientist or an expert on food safety, but I do know if a manufacturer is not doing everything in its power to ensure a safe product, I’m not going to sell it. Had the person simply said the company was looking at adding that step, I probably would still be selling the brand. It was the complete refusal that did the company in for my store.
Here we are 11 years after one of the largest pet food recalls in history, and a lot has changed. I no longer can say, “I only sell products that have never had a recall,” and I am also no longer anti-co-packers. What I am is anti-bad manufacturers.
Having all the information about a recall certainly can give you a different view of the manufacturers you deal with, but it’s also important to relay your findings to your customers. Let the customer know exactly what you found and why you made the decisions you made. Providing that level of information not only makes the customer have confidence in you, it also plants a reason in the customer’s mind as to why they are walking into your brick-and-mortar store. They are not going to find that type of information with the huge e-commerce site that is auto shipping their food every month.
B.C. Henschen, a certified pet care technician and an accredited pet trainer, is a partner in Platinum Paws, a full-service pet salon and premium pet food store in Carmel, Ind. His knowledge of the pet food industry makes Platinum Paws the go-to store for pet owners who want more for their pet than a bag off a shelf.