3 questions to ask your pet food manufacturer
When choosing a manufacturing partner for your pet food, you might begin your search like you would many things — with those who have the best reputation. While reputation counts for a lot, it’s important to peel back a layer and fully understand what’s going on behind the scenes to account for the safety and quality of the final product.
It’s safe to assume that all pet food manufacturers worthy of consideration will have a formal food safety program. However, how comprehensive it is, and how fully it is implemented, is a different story. Without this need-to-know information, you run the risk of manufacturing a product that does not match your specifications — or the requirements of the FDA.
Here are three important questions to ask as you vet manufacturers’ pet food safety programs:
1. What is included in your food safety program?
The objective of any food safety program is to prevent, eliminate or reduce food safety hazards to an acceptable level. To achieve this, the food safety management system (e.g. HACCP) must be built upon effective prerequisite food safety programs, which should incorporate the following:
• Supply-chain management program: To protect the integrity of the final product, specifications should be established for all ingredients. The manufacturer should purchase from approved suppliers and determine a schedule of appropriate supplier verification activities, such as on-site audits.
• Sanitary transportation of food. To ensure food safety of ingredients and finished products, the manufacturer should establish sanitary practices that must be followed by shippers and other entities involved in transporting food, and monitor and verify the practices are followed.
• cGMPs (Current Good Manufacturing Practices): Like any manufacturer, your pet food partner should employ cGMPs that include hand washing and the use of hair nets to prevent product contamination, as well as processes to establish continuous plant sanitation, adequate water supply, etc.
• SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures): SOPs should be established for all mission-critical tasks to ensure consistency in execution.
• SSOP (Sanitation Standard Operating Procedure): This step-by-step methodology dictates how equipment should be cleaned and sanitized to minimize contamination.
• Regular audits: Both internal and third-party audits should be conducted at the facility, and reports from a certification firm should be available for review upon request.
• Committed culture: Manufacturers should incorporate employee training and policies related to food safety to ensure it is a primary component of workplace philosophy and culture.
2. What precautions do you take to prevent cross-contamination?
As an oft-overlooked component of food safety, this is a focused question to pose to your potential partner. Every manufacturing process will include a “kill” step aimed at killing pathogens that may be in the ingredients. But without the proper precautions, it is still possible for harmful microorganisms to be transferred from contaminated surfaces to the product or food contact surfaces, or from the raw ingredient to the product. Prevention efforts might include hygienic zoning, in which the facility is zoned to separate raw ingredient handling areas from post-kill step processes, break rooms and maintenance shops, and hallways and warehouses. Ideally, both movement and airflow would be controlled to prevent cross-contamination between the zones.
3. Has your product ever been recalled? If so, why, and what has been done to prevent this from happening again in the future?
It’s important to confirm that your manufacturer has a track record of complying with both regulatory and customer requirements. If a recall has been issued, this may initially throw up a red flag, but before scratching the manufacturer off your list, ask what happened and what has been done to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
A recall can be an indicator that a food safety program has failed, but recalls can happen for many reasons. For example, an isolated incident involving an employee error may have led to the recall. Or a supplier may have provided an assurance letter regarding a specific ingredient, but the ingredient was later found to be contaminated. Asking smart questions can help you determine the real cause of the recall and whether or not the manufacturer’s current food safety program will be a true preventive measure.
Nyachuba, Ph.D., is corporate director of food safety for American Nutrition.