What is pet food safety and how is it achieved?

To deliver a safe ingredient to the pet food industry is a challenge, as much as putting a safe pet food on the market. Many incidents can affect the food safety of finished pet food, like chemical, physical or microbiological substances, and are potentially sources of disease and thus of product recalls. The most challenging factor is the microbiological one, i.e. Salmonella, a bacterium that can contaminate many ingredients and survive on dry pet food, and then also infect animals and pet owners.

Bartosz Lebida
Technical Service Manager
Kemin Nutrisurance EMEA

Cristina Murcia Garcia
Technical Service Manager
Kemin Nutrisurance EMEA

Patrice Gault
Technical Service Manager & Sales Manager
Kemin Nutrisurance EMEA

Elena Fraccaroli
Technical Service Manager
Kemin Nutrisurance EMEA

Frank Clement
Principal Technical Service & Kemin Application
Solution Manager
Kemin Nutrisurance EMEA

Food safety in the pet food industry is a shared responsibility among renderers, ingredient suppliers, pet food manufacturers, distributors and even pet owners, who feed the final pet food or pet treat to their companions. Ensuring the safety and quality of commercial pet foods is both a challenging and complex process.

In the raw materials supplying the pet food industry, food safety can be particularly demanding for the rendering activity, which faces challenges of oxidative deterioration and microbial spoilage of both raw materials used and rendered products. Failure to control these aspects can result in loss of quality, palatability, and shelf-life of rendered materials, like fats and protein meals.

The first step in the whole chain of the rendering industry, that influences the whole product, is the slaughterhouse. What determines the creation of food safety guidelines as part of good practices is the way of proceeding with raw material after slaughter: microbiological and freshness aspects, transport practices and timings, and method of raw material processing. One of basic good practices is to define the specification of the raw material from the slaughterhouse to the rendering plant, and from here to the pet food manufacturer. A raw material or a product that does not meet the specification shall not be accepted for production and consequently shall properly be disposed of.

Slaughterhouses, rendering plants and pet food manufacturing facilities are under the constant control of the Veterinary Inspection, and they must have an implemented and documented system of hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP), among others. The main purpose of such systems is to ensure that the finished product is safe from all point of views. For instance, in the rendering plant, in terms of good practice, raw material collection areas are separated from production areas, technical tools are dedicated to each different area, additional disinfection basins and different colors are used within the zones. It is mandatory that buildings, production lines and storage areas do not allow access to rodents, birds, or pests.

When raw materials arrive to the rendering plant, they are directed according to the appropriate processing method for each category. As part of good manufacturing practices, the rendering plant focuses the attention on issues such as: prevention of microbiological contamination, foreign body contamination and positive release of the finished product. In each of these areas, it is important to identify weaknesses and to establish appropriate controls. Prevention of microbial contamination and associated risks is achieved by closing the processes, but also by avoiding condensation, in accordance with the cleaning procedures of each zone. In fact, wet and dry areas of the production site are permanently separated.

Speaking of food safety, the presence of foreign bodies should also be mentioned. Foreign body protection devices are installed at critical points in the process, such as crushers, presses, and mills, to protect the equipment from damage. Similarly, in the pet food manufacturing process, foreign body detectors are placed in several strategical points, such as before milling or grinding and after packing, to avoid improper pet food to arrive on the shelf.

At any stage, from slaughterhouse, transport, raw material processing in the rendering plant, to final pet food, a suitable environment can be created that can have a direct impact on the safety of the processed material, in terms of microbial contamination, loss of freshness, oxidation, and other relevant aspects. The definition of where these hazards arise, the factors determining their activity and the ways to control and prevent them, determine the approach to food safety. For each of the aspects defined above, appropriate solutions are available, depending on the defined problem and its scale. In addition to procedural approaches, it is possible to concretely intervene with the addition of substances that provide protection against various hazards, not affecting product features (nutritional quality, organoleptic features, …). The portfolio of substances is wide and includes antioxidants, preservatives such as antibacterial, anti-Salmonella, anti-mold, ready to support the quest for high quality and safe final products.

To deliver a safe ingredient to the pet food industry is a challenge, as much as putting a safe pet food on the market. Many incidents can affect the food safety of finished pet food, like chemical (melamine, …), physical (foreign bodies, …) or microbiological substances, and are potentially sources of disease and thus of product recalls. The most challenging factor is the microbiological one, i.e. Salmonella, a bacterium that can contaminate many ingredients and survive on dry pet food, and then also infect animals and pet owners. To make a correct risk assessment is compulsory to identify and understand the safety risks, involving people and facility to define a specific control plan.

Furthermore, the use of novel ingredients in pet food recipes is an additional risk for dogs and cats, especially if such ingredients have never been used to feed other species, including humans, as little will be known about the related potential risks. Current marketing trends expect pet food manufacturers to provide increasingly innovative and advanced products in response to consumer needs. These products should ensure the proper development and functioning of the body and be adapted to the age, physical condition, diet, and environmental conditions of the final consumer. To achieve this, natural raw materials are used as dietary ingredients, which involve additional risks. Moreover, such products are oftentimes manufactured using new technologies.

Although production is carried out according to the principles of safe and sustainable food, with a defined process control, it is also necessary to constantly update the regulations in this field. The level of food safety largely depends on effective legislation, as well as on the ability to enforce it. Updating regulations in terms of food production requirements will strengthen protection against harmful physical, chemical, biological, food fraud and food defense factors.

It is therefore clear that food safety is a worthwhile topic, which can profoundly influence the success of the entire supply chain, the health and safety of the figures involved, from operators to pets and pet owners, so much so that in the end it can be considered a keystone to keep pet owners’ confidence. The challenges in the safety fields can be really complex and often not evident but hidden in the depth of the process. For these reasons, it’s essential that all the figures involved in the various phases of the supply chain can rely not on mere safety product suppliers, but on specialized partners. Thanks to the in-depth knowledge of the field and specific skills, a solid partner can help to ensure that all process phases are dealt with in the most correct and efficient way to ensure the overall safety of the raw material and the finished product, for the success of the whole business.

About Bartosz Lebida
Bartosz Lebida Msc Eng is a graduate of Jagiellonian University and Cracow University of Technology (Poland). He worked 6 years as Quality Manager, responsible for production of several manufacturing plants specialized in the production of high-quality products, such as animal meals and animal fats for the pet food industry. He recently joined Kemin Nutrisurance Europe team as Technical Service Manager, where he’s technical responsible for antioxidants and preservatives, dedicated to both rendering and pet food industry. He provides his customer with specific solutions to their needs, in accordance with best practices and the best products available.

About Cristina Murcia Garcia
Dr. Cristina Murcia García gained her PhD in Chemistry with focus on red-ox reactions from the University of Bonn (Germany). Since then, she has specialized in managing oxidation in rendering and pet food products. She works as Technical Service Manager for Kemin Nutrisurance Europe where she provides solutions to improve raw materials and pet food safety and shelf-life. Besides, she develops tailor-made trials and protocols for customers and holds customer specific trainings on topics like oxidation, freshness, and food safety.

About Patrice Gault
Dr. Patrice Gault obtained his PhD in Food Science from the National Institute for Agronomic Research (France). During more than 20 years, he worked as Product Development Manager in several petfood industry leaders in Europe, gaining extensive experience in ingredients, formulation, nutrition, palatability, and food safety. He joined Kemin Nutrisurance EMEA 6 years ago and works as Account & Technical Manager.

About Elena Fraccaroli
Elena Fraccaroli is graduated in Veterinary Medicine at the University of Padua (Italy). After working for a several years as vet anesthesiologist in a veterinary clinic, she entered the world of pet food production in the technical team of an Italian manufacturing company. Now she works for Kemin Nutrisurance Europe as Technical Service Manager, dealing with a wide range of Kemin’s product specifically dedicated to pet food, such as palatants, functional ingredients, and preservative options. She provides solutions for the best palatability and safety of finished products, developing customized protocols to test the available choices. Elena also provides Kemin’s customers with trainings on palatant, food preservation and functional ingredients.

About Frank Clement
Frank Clement is a Principal Technical Service Manager (TSM) and the Kemin Application Services (KAS) manager of Kemin Nutrisurance EMEA, based in France. Frank coordinates EU antioxidant, preservatives, and palatability TSM team projects. During the past 7 years, he spent lot of time in slaughterhouses and rendering plants to evaluate the best strategy to preserve the freshness of raw materials and guaranty safe end pet food products. He has been at Kemin for 12 years, mainly focusing on antioxidation subject and especially on EU Natural Antioxidant transition. As biochemist, he spent more than 30 years on pet food industry and especially on the analytical part at the beginning of his career.