Recent Pet Food Recalls Are Unfortunate, But No Reason To Panic


I am not suggesting the scare concerning the possibility of salmonella in cat foods shouldn’t concern or upset consumers.

However, some of the email I’m receiving are more than a little over-the-top, though I understand your emotion (and feel it myself). First, take a breath and consider this:

Salmonella recalls are not new. They’ve been happening here and there for years with a long list of pet foods, not an excuse – but the reality. While pets could be susceptible to illness, the more likely threat is actually to people becoming ill, particularly children or people who are immune suppressed. But let me stress, to my knowledge, concerning the most recent recall – no pet or person has been sickened.

While salmonella found in pet foods isn’t new – here’s what is new, and why this story is receiving more attention than salmonella recalls dating back a few years. Today, there’s a more organized effort by the FDA to communicate (a good thing), and the use of social media as well as traditional media to spread the word combines pretty efficiently to reach more people.

Also, pet owners are more sensitive to recalls than ever – even hypersensitive – as a result of the massive pet food recalls from 2007. It was by far the worst-case scenario come true. We don’t have a clue how many pets died as a result of the tainted food. We do know it was a criminal event based in China.

Here’s a little known secret, the people who discovered the melamine (and other substances) in the tainted food happen to be scientists from a pet food manufacturer.


I know who they are – but they’ve never wanted to go public. But I can assure you, the pet food companies have been doing everything they can to avoid potential recalls of any kind. Most are also being as transparent as their lawyers will allow. 

Maybe there should have been tighter controls, and maybe the pet food companies should take some heat. But it wasn’t too much after the melamine in pet foods revelation that we learned of another disaster – melamine in infant formula. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin had told me early on in the pet recall story in 2007, “This is bigger than a pet food issue, it’s a food safety issue.” Of course, he turned out to be right.

The salmonella concerns are clearly an all together different worry. But human nature ties them together, according to. Dr. Tony Buffington, veterinary nutritionist at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Columbus. He said the response concerning the salmonella recall as an example of single trial aversive conditioning. “Humans have this trait as a survival mechanism,” he explains. “If you eat a food that sickens you, you will not eat that food again, at least anytime soon. The experience of pets becoming ill from melamine was so emotional – even if your own pet was not affected. So, we may over-respond to any threat concerning pet food safety because pets have become an extension of us.”

When the pet food recalls as a result of salmonella were recently announced, I suggested – this isn’t a pet food issue, so much a food issue. Turns out I was very right, though the salmonella in the egg recall (Salmonella Enteritidis) is different than the salmonella in the pet food.

I am not excusing salmonella being found in pet foods, peanut butter, eggs or anywhere else – I am just saying it happens. Hopefully, it will happen less and less. But this is not in any way whatsoever like the recall of 2007 as a result of tainted pet foods. And certainly, the pet food manufactuers are the first to want to avoid any problem.