FDA, Aflatoxin and Pet Food Recalls

“Government agencies and the feed and food industries routinely screen grain for contamination; however, it’s the responsibility of the manufacturing company, i.e. the firm whose name is on the label, to produce a safe product and to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that.”

Laura Alvey
Deputy Director, Communications Staff
FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine

In the month since Thanksgiving, there has been a flurry of pet food recalls due to elevated levels of aflatoxin.

The first recall in the series wasn’t a recall at all, according to the manufacturer. Procter & Gamble described its November 25th store-level removal of several Iams brand dry pet foods as a “product pull” and did not issue a news release until after Price Chopper – a regional supermarket chain – posted a notice of the action on its recall web page.

The Price Chopper notice was picked up by eFoodAlert, and readers of this site helped to publicize the “product pull” throughout the pet community. Price Chopper – possibly under pressure from Procter & Gamble – withdrew its recall notice for several days, before reposted it with additional explanation.

Events overtook this initial product withdrawal on December 6th, when Procter & Gamble announced the recall of a single Iams dry puppy food due to elevated levels of aflatoxin. Similar recall notices from several other pet food producers followed.

Today, FDA posted – for the first time – a recall notice dated December 12, 2011 issued by Petrus Feed and Seed Stores, Inc. (Alexandria, LA). The company recalled  21% Protein Dog Food in 40 lb Petrus Feed bags (Packaging date codes 4K1011 through 4K1307; Lot numbers 4K1011 through 4K1335), after elevated levels of aflatoxin were found in the corn used as an ingredient in the dog food. The recalled pet food was produced for Petrus by Cargill’s manufacturing facility located in LeCompte, Louisiana between December 1, 2010 and December 1, 2011.

The same Cargill facility also manufactured several other recalled brands of aflatoxin-contaminated dog food, including Arrow, River Run, and Marksman. It is “unlikely”, according to FDA Spokeswoman Laura Alvey that the recalled Iams puppy food was manufactured using the same corn that went into the Cargill-manufactured product.

“Aflatoxins,” Alvey explained in response to my request for comment, “are a naturally occurring toxin that develops when the mold Aspergillus species grow on the corn in the field or after harvest if it’s improperly dried and stored. Corn is a common ingredient used in both dry and wet pet foods,” she added.

The 2010 crop year was a wet one, and generated higher than usual levels of aflatoxin in the field. While this may have created special challenges for farmers and for companies such as Cargill and Iams, rapid quantitative tests for aflatoxins and other natural toxins are readily available. The manufacturers easily could have – and should have – tested the corn for aflatoxin before using it to produce pet food. There is no excuse for releasing product containing untested corn onto the market and allowing that product to remain on the market for as long as one year.

In my “Have Your Say!” survey of readers’ opinions of the five most significant stories of 2011, the Iams pet food recall story earned second place. I believe that this story is significant for two reasons:

  1. It underscores the futility of trying to carry out a stealth recall in an era of instant communication.
  2. It highlights the importance of preventative measures, including testing ingredients before incorporating them into a human or animal food product.

The one bright spot in this sorry saga is the ethical behavior of Price Chopper. This relatively small grocery chain advised its customers of the initial Iams “product pull” – complete with UPC and Lot codes – and offered its customers a full refund on these products. The company then had the guts to post an explanation of the sequence of events, making Procter & Gamble (owner of the Iams brand) look like a very shabby bunch of operators by comparison.

Kudos to Price Chopper’s management. May you continue to be guided by your sense of ethics and fair play in the years to come.

21 thoughts on “FDA, Aflatoxin and Pet Food Recalls

    1. I caught that too. They are all made at the same Cargill facility, so it is not that surprising. However, I would have assumed they might have been different unless their formulas and runs were identical, which may very well have been the case. As I said, I got lot numbers 4K0335 through 4K0365 from Petrus when I called them yesterday.


  1. Recent aflatoxin petfood recalls may increase safety regulations

    New safety regulations aimed at preventing petfood contamination from grains and other ingredients

    Release Date: Monday, December 26, 2011 Comments(0)

    A series of recent recalls in the United States for high aflatoxin levels in petfood is increasing the pressure to tighten government food safety rules in proposals that are currently under review by the Food and Drug Administration, according to a report.

    The Act, signed into law this year, focuses on preventing petfood contamination, starting with petfood ingredients, rather than just responding to contamination. Grains, ingredients in many petfoods, are degraded by crop diseases, including the Aspergillus fungus on corn. In dry, hot growing seasons like 2011, toxins like aflatoxin are produced in high amounts, causing a series of recent petfood recalls by Cargill, Iams and Advanced Animal Nutrition.

    “What’s happening with the Food Safety Modernization Act is we’re seeing an increase in incidents of reporting because there is more surveillance. With more surveillance we are going to get more positives,” said Greg Aldrich, president of feed consultancy, Pet Food and Ingredient Technology. “Livestock feed, petfood and human food companies have already begun to implement everything that is going to be part of the law.”

    “We stepped up our testing of aflatoxin especially looking at the dry conditions of the summer,” said Mike Strain, commissioner of agriculture and forestry for Louisiana, USA. “When you look at food safety we continue to test. It shows why we need that traceability system so we can identify the product then go through the entire system and pull that product back.”

    Crop specialists say the key to keeping aflatoxin out of the human and animal food chain is to test corn right from the field in high-risk years. However, tests are expensive at US$10 to US$15 per sample, and can be timely and sometimes produce a false negative result.

    “Shortcuts get taken,” said Charles Hurburgh, a grain quality specialist for Iowa State University. “With the Food Safety Modernization Act, if you have reason to believe you have an adulterated food, more than 20 parts is an adulterated food – you put it in the system, you’re in big trouble.”


  2. I just got clarification from Petrus Feed & Seed Stores regarding 21% Protein Dog Food recalls.

    There is a new third lot in the recall in addition to the first two recalls. The date codes that are recalled are LL1001 through LL1335, 4K101 through 4K1335 and 4K0335 through 4K0365.

    The last lot (4K0335 through 4K0365) Cargill notified Petrus of has not, to my knowledge, been released by the FDA.


    1. Mollie, I have checked with my FDA contact, and she has confirmed the number ranges given in the December 14, 2011 recall notice. My post now reflects those numbers. I don’t know what the story is regarding 4K0335 through 4K0365.

      Thanks for doing some digging on this story.


      1. I got the 4K035 through 4K0365 recall information from Petrus today – he told me he was reading it off of a notice Cargill sent them.


      2. The recall notice for lot numbers LL1001-LL1335 has since disappeared from the FDA website. Wierd. But according to Petrus it is still valid.


  3. The FDA released another recall notice dated December 14, 2011 for Petrus dog food with the “correct” but completely different lot codes.

    The December 12, 2011 recall notice is for packaging date codes (lot numbers) LL1001 – LL1335.

    In the December 14, 2011 updated new release with “corrected lot numbers” packaging date codes (lot numbers) 4K1011 – 4K1307. Updated lot numbers are 4K1011 through 4K1335.

    What is the correction for – lot numbers LL1001 – LL1335 or lot numbers 4K1011 – 4K1307? Why no mention of the lot numbers LL1001 – LL1335 in this most recent updated new release with corrected lot numbers, are they still valid or incorrect? Where is the original (incorrect) version of the recall for lot numbers 4K1011 – 4K1307?

    My head hurts.Ow.

    see: http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ucm285240.htm?s_cid=w_c_PetHealth_cont_001


  4. The FDA must have discovered another recall notice gathering dust – they just posted Cargill’s private label Arrow brand (Arrowbrand) dog food from O’Neals Feeders just now, originally dated December 13, 2011. Oops. This food was also manufactured by Cargill, and presumably sold to consumers and consumed by dogs, for one year. Boy, they must all be catching up on their beauty sleep.

    Snooze you lose: http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ucm285254.htm?source=govdelivery


  5. Thank you again FBL for telling it like it is! And what took the FDA so long in reporting this latest recall? How this food (and others) were manufactured for a year and presumably consumed by pets without the discovery is shocking, frightening and downright shameful. Kudos to PC for stepping up to the plate (pun intended). And thanks again for keeping us informed.


  6. Thank you, eFood Alert. It’s good to have you looking out for us and our beloved pets. And to Price Chopper, I would shop your store Exclusively if there was one anywhere in my area!


  7. Costco no longer carries organic peanut butter & has replaced it with another natural, but not organic substitute. That makes me wonder if organic peanut butter may not be a good idea since aflatoxin is an endemic problem with peanuts?? Any comments on this out there??


  8. You are so right! How puzzling that instant communication cannot be possible in relation to recalls. And may 2012 bring more companies like Price Chopper! We need to do business ONLY with companies that show integrity as they did.


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