Lessons from 2007
By Seth Mendelson

Dog food was the talk of the town in 2007, of course for all the wrong reasons. If you don’t remember–and hopefully, you do–an issue with tainted products led to more than 100 animal deaths and the recall of thousands of items from retail shelves. A number of companies, from Nestlé Purina, Del Monte and Hills to the main culprit, Menu Foods, were forced to pull products from retail shelves.

Then they had to repair the damage to the industry. More than four years later, everything seems fine. Suppliers did what they had to do to ensure that their products reached retail shelves in the right shape, and retailers, by and large, did their part to educate consumers that the necessary precautions were taken to protect their animals’ wellbeing.

The recall made such big news because it is such a rare occurrence.

But it is going to happen again, and it may be worse next time. The bottom line is that protecting humans or pets against various adulterants that can sicken or kill them is an ongoing battle that is only becoming more difficult. The early June episode of E. coli in Germany simply proves the point. According to the experts, the strain of E. coli causing the problem is a new version of the bacteria that is more resistant to antibiotics.

So if we know that more problems are down the pike, what does the pet industry need to do to protect itself? The best answer, according to the experts, is prevention and preparation when another episode takes place. Manufacturers, of course, need to do all in their power to limit the risk of tainted foods reaching consumers through proper testing and handling. Retailers need to make sure that they are educated on all food safety issues and constantly on the lookout for the first warning sign. Getting tainted products off store shelves is paramount to controlling a problem.

At the same time, the industry must keep consumers aware of food safety issues, without creating any kind of unneeded hysteria that will hurt sales, profits, and most importantly, the pet food industry’s hard-earned reputation for quality products. If everyone works together, another outbreak could be contained with minimal damage.