Images via Darwin'sNaturalPetProducts/Instagram

Raw Pet Food Company Knew Salmonella Was Present at Plant, FDA Finds

Darwin Natural Pet Products has some questions to answer. 

Investigators from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) recently visited the production plant, Arrow Reliance Inc., where Darwin's Natural Pet Products produces its raw pet foods

Food Safety News obtained the draft inspection report through a public records request after Darwin recalled its fifth product since October 2016. The latest recall included a product contaminated with E. coli O128. In fact, all the past recalls were due to salmonella poisoning leading to the inspection. 

Yet, president and owner of Darwin's Gary Tashjian told the inspectors that they've never had complaints regarding Salmonella, E. coli or Listeria. 

The pet food's records exposed that, in fact, there have 332 complaints from customers from Jan. 5, 2017, through Dec. 5, 2017. 36% of the complaints (one-third) were related to pet sickness and even death; 10% were due to foreign objects found in the food including metal, plastic, rubber bands, produce bands and ties, hairnet material, and a pebble. Other complaints included spoiled and leaking packages. 

In addition to not addressing the complaints, the company knew there were harmful bacterias at the plant. According to their own in-house inspection reports, Salmonella was found in multiple places at the facility including the handle of a hand cart and the wheel of a garbage can. A trench drain by the meat grinder had failed and was documented on Aug. 24, 2017 with no corrective action. Thermometer failures were also reported with no follow-up fix.

The inspection also revealed:

  • A mallet with raw meat material on it was on a rack used to store sanitized equipment in the sanitizing room;
  • 4-wheeled hand cart with two shelves covered with wet cardboard containing raw meat. Cart was touching a food preparation surface. Buckets used to carry and mix micro ingredients and phage preparation stored on the cart. Cart handle was broken and surface appeared to not be cleanable;
  • Dirty tool from processing floor placed on top of sanitized yellow pallet;
  • Food preparation table grooved and not cleanable;
  • Flashing between wall and floor and behind prep table was damaged and contained meat debris;
  • Employee observed breaking down dirty cardboard boxes with gloved hands and returning to processing floor without changing gloves or sanitizing;
  • Freezer box "B" had bloody and rusted metal racks; bloody floors and boxes storing frozen meat; organic material behind racks;
  • Cooler box "A" had bloody boxes of meat and vegetables stored on metal racks and pallets with organic material behind racks;
  • Cardboard boxes containing raw meat were observed leaking and dripping blood onto boxes stored below and onto adjacent boxes, pallets and metal racks;
  • Wooden pallets and metal racks not maintained or designed to be cleaned in a manner that protects ingredients against contamination;
  • Fork lift was observed moving from the receiving/loading dock, over the packing floor, through Box A and into the raw product prepping room;
  • Employees were wearing dirty boots in sanitation room and on process floor;
  • Damaged wall in preparation room;
  • Cement floor under hoses chipped and broken away. An approximately 12-inch x 12-inch hole was observed in first layer of cement;
  • Employee pocket knife observed on food contact service;
  • Door stops and upright pillar stops pitted and rusted;
  • Slider door between prep room and temping room rusted and dirty; and
  • Recycled wooden pallets noted in processing area at end of packing line.

At the time of the FDA inspection, Darwin Natural Pet Foods did not have a sanitation plan to attempt to fix the pathogen problems.

The inspection also revealed what they deemed "objectionable" working conditions. According to the report they found:

  • Failure to conduct operations under cGMPs (current Good Manufacturing Practices);
  • Raw materials were not thawed under conditions that would minimize the potential for growth of undesirable pathogens;
  • Animal food contact surfaces not made of appropriate materials or maintained to protect animal food from becoming contaminated; and
  • Equipment and utensils not used appropriately to avoid adulteration of animal food with contaminants.

The company wants consumers to provide Darwin's with test results from a veterinarian if their pet gets sick.

If you believe your pet has food poisoning from raw food, contact your vet immediately. The FDA also encourages consumers to report complaints through the Safety Reporting Portal or by calling their state's FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinators. Signs of Salmonella include diarrhea lasting longer than three days, vomiting, blood in the stool, fever, and incontinence. 

Darwin's Natural Pet Products is a home-delivery subscription service that sends raw meals for your dog or cat. The balanced meals are frozen and sent on regularly-scheduled shipments. The company makes gluten-free, wheat-free, and grain-free meals to help a pet convert to a raw diet, which many vets do recommend.

The documentary "Pet Fooled" advocates for feeding your pet a raw food diet. Whether or not raw food should be mass produced is debatable due to food safety.

Do you feed your dog or cat Darwin's raw pet food? Tell us in the comments below. 

Images via Darwin'sNaturalPetProducts/Instagram

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