Understanding the Importance of Food Safety for People and Pets
On Jan. 4, 2011, President Obama signed The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) into law. It was, at the time, the most sweeping reform of U.S. food safety laws in 70+ years, and its aim was (and remains) to ensure that the U.S. food supply is safe. Simply stated, it enables the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to better protect public health by focusing on preventing food safety problems.
It’s important to note the focus has shifted to preventing contamination of the food supply, rather than responding to it. This shift was long overdue and has resulted in a change in how food manufacturers approach their product—from how facilities are constructed to how the materials are sourced or how they are packaged—and everything in between.
The law applies to human food, as well as to food for animals—including pets. The FDA regulates the manufacture of cat food, dog food, and dog treats or snacks to align pet food production more closely with human foods.
What is Food Safety?
Food safety is used as a scientific method or discipline describing handling, preparation, and storage of food in ways that prevent food-borne illness. The occurrence of two or more cases of a similar illnesses resulting from the ingestion of a common food is considered “a food-borne disease outbreak.” Food safety (sometimes known as food hygiene) includes a number of routines that should be followed to avoid potential health hazards.
Food safety often overlaps with food defense to prevent harm to consumers—this includes safety between industry and the market, and between the market and the consumer. With industry-to-market practices, food safety considerations include the origins of food, including the practices relating to food labeling, food hygiene, food additives, and pesticide residues; policies on biotechnology and food; and guidelines for the management of governmental import and export inspection and certification systems for foods.
Food can transmit pathogens, which can result in illness or death for a person or animal. The main types of pathogens are bacteria, viruses, mold, and fungus. Food can also serve as a growth and reproductive medium for pathogens. In theory, food poisoning is 100% preventable. However, because of the number of people and the steps involved in the supply chain, accidental contamination can occur. It’s also true that pathogens can be introduced into foods no matter how many precautions are taken.
People Food and Animal Food Processing are Alike
The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act requires that all animal and human foods be safe to eat; produced under sanitary conditions; contain no harmful substances; and be truthfully labeled. In addition, canned pet foods must be processed in conformance with the low-acid canned food regulations to ensure it is free of viable microorganisms. While pet food products are not required to have pre-market approval by the FDA, the government body requires that the ingredients used are safe and have an “appropriate function” in the pet food. Many ingredients, i.e., meat, poultry, and grains, are considered safe and do not require pre-market approval. Other substances, such as sources of minerals, vitamins and other nutrients, flavorings, preservatives, or processing aids may be generally recognized as safe for an intended use or must have approval as food additives.
If this is beginning to sound familiar to those who work in food manufacturing of people food: That’s because it is very much the same. Many of the same regulations and process requirements seen in a facility that manufactures pet food will be the same as those at any human food processing facility.
Americans love their furry, feathered, and scaled friends—and they spend money on them. According to the American Pet Products Association, total retail pet supply sales in the U.S are expected to tally $99 billion for 2020, up from $95.7 billion. While some of this increase can probably be attributed to “pandemic pet buying” (the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reported a 70% spike in pet adoptions in NYC and LA alone in spring 2020), it clearly shows that Americans are invested in their pets. Therefore, facilities that manufacture food for Fido, Fluffy, and Fang are better off if they strive to provide the best products they can. In other words, all pet food manufacturers must address the same basic principles of food safety as their human food counterparts.
What’s on the Menu
This is the introduction to a four-part series on FSMA’s impact on human and pet food safety. In future articles, we will look at exactly how human food facilities and pet food facilities operate to maximize safety from food-borne pathogens. We’ll see how they are alike and look at some of the newest trends. We’ll also take a deep dive into FSMA’s impact on both human and pet food processing, including why pet food is more regulated than human food production. Also discussed will be the challenges included in pet food manufacturing, how sanitation details must also comply with FSMA guidelines (i.e., traffic flow, pressurization, hygienic mapping), as well as systems and designs used to overcome fears of salmonella, and more. Stay tuned!
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a contributing author and not necessarily Gray.