Anatomy of a Pet Food Recall

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It’s hard for a pet parent to imagine:  you feed your furry family members, sit down to check Facebook or watch the news, and learn that maybe your dog just ate pieces of blue plastic that can cause choking, or perhaps the food contained propylene glycol — the ingredient in antifreeze.  What do you do?  How do you find out if your dog or cat is at risk or sick?  Or whether the food you’re serving was even affected?

First:  don’t panic.  Food recall announcements contain specific information:  the lot number, UPC code, “best before” date, and where it was distributed.  “People can worry when they don’t need to,” says Raina Dey of the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA).  In most of the recent recalls, contaminated foods hadn’t been distributed in Oregon at all, which is welcome news to worried families.  Still, food can travel or be redistributed, so it’s always important to check your pantry for affected packages.  That’s why, as OVMA’s public relations director, Dey monitors all warnings and recall announcements from the Food and Drug Administration so she can notify the public and OVMA member veterinarians.

Recalls happen for a number of reasons.  In some recent cases, foods were recalled because they had either too much or too little Vitamin D.  Whatever the reason for the recall, it’s vital to quickly determine who bought the affected food, especially if there’s a serious health risk, as with the recent scares involving plastic contaminants and propylene glycol.

Fortunately, we live in the information age.  The FDA announces recalls on its website and through emails to subscribers.  From there, organizations like the OVMA continue the dissemination.  “We always post them on our website and Facebook,” says Dey, “and people share it like crazy.”  Dey also notifies the media and veterinarians.  The FDA and the manufacturer also notify retailers, who often contact customers who purchased the product, especially if customers used rewards cards or bought online.

At the Nature’s Pet Market in south Salem, Oregon, owner Terri Ellen has her own notification system.  “We try to collect as much information as our customers allow us — like phone numbers and email addresses — so we can keep track of what people have bought.  If a food is recalled, we can look at who bought it and send an email.  Thank goodness we’ve never had to do that, but we have the capability.”  Any time there’s a recall of a food or treat, Ellen and her staff goes through their inventory, checking the UPC codes on each bag or can.

Given the fear and anxiety that food recalls can cause, manufacturers are quick to try to make it right.  In a recent recall of Wellness canned cat food, Ellen says a company representative came to her store and bought back all of the affected product.  “We are not out the money.  And the customer isn’t either.  Even if the food just smells funny and isn’t recalled, customers can return it and get a refund and we often send it to the manufacturer.”

Customers are fairly forgiving, Ellen believes.  Even after a recall, as long as pets weren’t harmed or sickened, customers seem to remain loyal to their favorite brand of pet food.  As a retailer, though, she takes note.  “I’m looking at adding a new line of food.  I’m considering a couple of manufacturers.  One has had some recalls, and I don’t like that.  I can get the same thing from a manufacturer that’s never had a recall.  I’m influenced by that.”


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·         KEEP THE ORIGINAL PACKAGING.  If you pour kibble into a food bin, keep the bag or at least save the UPC label.  When a recall happens, this is the only way you’ll know if you bought affected food.  This goes for any packaging, including can labels or treat packages.

·         WATCH FOR RECALL ANNOUNCEMENTS.  Many make it to the news media, but not all.  You can follow OVMA on Facebook or subscribe to emails from the FDA (  Spot also posts recalls at  “Be aware,” cautions Dey about subscribing to the FDA, “that you will get ALL of their notices.”  

·         A CONSCIENTIOUS RETAILER IS AN EXTRA LAYER OF SAFETY.  If they collect contact info or you use a rewards card or frequent-buyer program, it’s easier for them to track you down in the event of a concern.

·         SOME VETERINARIANS RECOMMEND BUYING FOODS AND TREATS MANUFACTURED IN THE USA.  There are current concerns about certain jerky treats made in China.  The FDA visited the factory and found no contaminants, but has issued a warning about potential safety problems.

·         YOU CAN FILE YOUR OWN COMPLAINT IF YOU THINK YOUR PET GOT SICK FROM A FOOD, TREAT OR MEDICATION.  Go to and fill out an information form.  You’ll be asked to send in the original packaging, and some of the food if you have it.  If you can do that, you’re more likely to get a thorough investigation of your complaint.  Many recalls are issued as a result of customer reports.