Common Issues in the Pet Food Industry

Pet food companies don’t always sell products as safe as pet owners would like. When it comes to nutrition and quality, cat and dog food manufacturers fall far short of expectations. In fact, the industry is rife with false claims, cheap substitutes, and harmful additives. Manufacturers can implement more effective measure, including commercial freeze dry machines, to ensure pet food is free of contamination and questionable preservatives and that nutrients and quality are maintained.

Common problems with manufactured pet food include:

  • Contamination: Contaminated food is a problem that has been the focus of many lawsuits. A class action lawsuit, filed against Diamond Pet foods and distributor Costco, was settled in 2016. According to Food Safety News, multiple pet owners claimed their pets’ food was contaminated with salmonella. As many as 115,000 customers may have purchased poisoned pet food, while several animals became ill and/or died.
  • Poor Nutrition: Many dog and cat foods are produced using human food waste or lower-quality ingredients. In fact, some manufacturers outsource production and contract with co-packers that yield poor-quality products, rather than focus on quality and upgrade their facilities with equipment from freeze dry equipment manufacturers. The most common causes of death for dogs and cats in the U.S. include heart disease, obesity, gastrointestinal disease, and cancer. These are generally associate with poor diet, as they are in people.
  • Questionable Ingredients: A Cornucopia Institute report states synthetic preservatives including BHA and BHT have been found in commercial pet foods, as has BPA, a synthetic chemical used to line food cans. Also, selenium additives can introduce toxic levels of this essential trace element.
  • Meat Byproducts: The same report explains pet food manufacturers routinely use low-quality food industry waste and meat from dead, disabled, or dying livestock. Animal fat, meat and bone meal, or blood meal may be on the label, but few people know what these really are. The resulting product ends up including more fat and less protein. An unknown cause of animal death, expired meat, use of restaurant food scraps, or unwanted cooking compounds, including used grease, are also potential concerns.
  • Deceptive labeling: Companies have used marketing techniques such as claiming non-organic formulas are such. Some even mimic the USDA Organic logo. Customers have been misled to buy products from cat and dog food manufacturers and feed their pets foods that aren’t as healthy and nutritious as the label claims. Excessive use of organic grains may introduce too many carbohydrates. Also, products may be labeled as GMO-free when, in fact, they include meat from animals given feed with GMO ingredients.

(H2) Pet Food Regulation

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the food, treats, and snacks given to cats and dogs. In fact, the safety of animal foods is enforced as strictly as human foods under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Foods must be:

  • Safe to eat
  • Have no harmful substances
  • Produced in a sanitary environment
  • Accurately labeled
  • Free of microorganisms

Low acid canned food regulations apply to canned pet food products so they’re free of contaminants such as salmonella. Pet food labeling is regulated by the FDA and some states that model their regulations using guidelines from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). The association’s feed regulations have been created with knowledge of animal science and nutrition, and they are enforced through requiring feed label compliance and field inspections.

Although not a regulatory authority, AAFCO helps safeguard animal and human health, manage animal feed industry commerce, and ensure consumer protection.

The FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine is focused on the safety and effectiveness of animal drugs, prior to approval and while on the market, and food. It oversees that animal feed, pet food, and treats are safe and properly manufactured, and that safe food additives are used.

(H2) The Pet Food Business

Manufacturers also add food dyes to create products that simulate the appearance of meat, fruit, and vegetables. These dyes may include impurities that have been associated with immune system tumors in mice, hyperactivity in children, allergic reactions, and brain tumors. Some pet food makers use powdered pea protein meal. By itself, this does not provide a pet with complete protein or the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants found in whole foods.

Adulteration happens when contaminants such as melamine or cyanuric acid are added to increase protein content. The Melamine Pet Food Recall of 2007 was a result of this practice. Not only did it arise from the death of 14 animals, but also the processing of tainted feed into human food products. That was just from melamine; the report by Cornucopia Institute revealed up to 18,000 dogs and cats may have died as a result of the addition of wheat gluten.

Over 150 brands of pet food have been recalled since, involving more than 100 companies, according to the FDA.

Industrial freeze dry machines won’t remove contaminants introduced by other products and processes. However, they can allow the preservation of packaging of food, so it can remain fresh while packaged for a long time. Manufactures and pet food businesses should also be aware of pet food regulations, including those that:

  • Define pet food as a subset of animal feed, including complete/unbalanced foods, treats/snacks, nutrient supplements, chews, and nutrient-added waters.
  • Cover food sold at stores, farmers markets, veterinarians offices, and over the internet. These are all considered commercial feed under the law.
  • Require pet food retailers and distributors to be licensed and registered in the state they are based in or to sell products over the internet.

Define requirements regarding safety, labeling, and distribution.

dog holding popcorn

(H2) Freeze Drying and the Pet Food Industry

Regulation of the pet food industry may seem reassuring, despite the issues found by studies. You may also wonder just how the freeze drying process plays in to pet food safety. Lyophilization is a very effective way to preserve food and ensure it is protected against contamination and spoilage. Pet food sales are increasing, having topped $26 billion in 2017, according to Packaged Facts, a market research firm.

The firm has also revealed various pet food trends in 2018. Among others, these include Americans becoming more aware of their pets’ health needs and seeking high-quality foods with preventative care benefits. Consumers are looking for foods meeting various nutritional needs, and which are appropriate to an animal’s breed, size, weight, age, and activity level. Nutraceutical ingredients, in addition to protein, are being sought, including omega fatty acids and probiotics.

Then there are people resorting to DIY pet foods, preparing meals with grilled meat or selecting sauces, toppings, and dehydrated foods.

Freeze drying is used throughout the food industry. Meats, fruits, and vegetables can be processed while their structural and chemical integrity, quality, and nutrients are preserved until they are reconstituted. Freeze-dried foods aren’t only used only by hikers, toddlers, or dieters. Pet owners are more commonly purchasing such products as alternatives to lower-quality products.

(H2) Why Cat and Dog Food Manufacturers Lyophilize Their Products

Freeze drying, or lyophilization or cryodesiccation, preserves perishable foods by freezing them and creating a vacuum that sublimates frozen water so it escapes as a gas. Skipping the liquid phase helps ensure the product does not degrade. It also does not lose key nutrients and chemicals.

Products are first pretreated, at which time they may be concentrated or treated with additional ingredients for stability or appearance. Facilities may also decrease a high-vapor-pressure solvent in the material. Food may also be treated to increase its surface area or make it free-flowing.

Pretreatment depends on the desired product quality, cycle time, and other factors. The food is then frozen in a lab using industrial or commercial freeze dry machines, such as those sold by Parker Freeze Dry. The temperature may be reduced to as low as -112°F.

Next is the primary drying phase, during which about 95% of the water in the sample is removed. Too much heat can damage the physical structure, so the food material is dried for as long as several days, at condenser temperatures of below -50°F. Water vapor, therefore, can’t reach the vacuum pump, so it can work efficiently. Secondary drying then removes unfrozen water molecules remaining in the material by raising the temperature and lowering the pressure before the product is sealed and packaged.

Freeze dried foods may contain just 1% to 4% residual water content.

woman holding a hand of dog

By using commercial and industrial freeze dry machines, pet food manufacturers can benefit from the properties of freeze dried products, which include:

  • Prevention of resorption of moisture, even at room temperature.
  • No need to refrigerate, yet products are protected against spoilage.
  • Food items may be protected for many years.
  • Inhibition of microorganisms and enzymes due to a lack of water.
  • Less shrinkage of dried material.
  • Preservation of nutrients, flavor, and smell.

In addition, some types of sugars act as lyoprotectants and protect material that has been freeze-dried. Naturally occurring compounds like sucrose and trehalose, a compound produced by plants, fungi, and invertebrates to survive droughts in suspended animation, may be added. Protective molecules, however, aren’t the only perks of freeze-drying pet food products.

During the process, microscopic pores created by sublimating ice crystals are left behind. These pores fill up when the product is rehydrated. Reconstituting a product can be accomplished quickly, while its nutrients, appearance, and quality meet the standards intended by the manufacturer. Pets receive much-needed nutrition to stay healthy or manage conditions. They’re also not put at risk by potentially harmful additives and preservatives.

a dog having its food

(H2) Equipment from Parker Freeze Dry

Quality and customer service at Parker Freeze Dry sets it apart from other freeze dry equipment manufacturers. The company supplies equipment to pharmaceutical, technology, agricultural, and pet food companies in a range of capacities, throughputs, and temperature ranges. Shipped directly to the customer, these industrial and commercial freeze dry machines are designed and built at their facilities, while their reps install and commission them and train customers’ staff members on proper use. They contribute to better quality, more nutritious pet food.

For more information, contact Parker Freeze Dry or call 636-387-7703.