Another Pentobarbital-related Pet Food Recall

Late this afternoon, Against the Grain Pet Food voluntarily recalled one lot of Against the Grain Pulled Beef with Gravy Dinner for Dogs (12 oz. cans; Lot #2415E01ATB12; Expiration date of December 2019) due to the potential presence of pentobarbital. The recalled dog food was manufactured and distributed in 2015 to independent pet retail stores in Washington and Maryland.

Who is Against the Grain Pet Food?

The company website makes the following claim:

Unlike 95% of other brands, Against the Grain owns its own manufacturing facility and produces its own products. This gives us accessibility and the ability to create totally unique and innovative products. Our manufacturing plant adheres to the highest standards of preserving our natural resources. For example, the use of natural light (skylights) is dominant throughout our plant, we have the maximum amount of recyclable materials in our retail packaging, all packaging materials are recycled, our water is supplied by our own on-site well, resulting in our conscious efforts to be socially and economically responsible.

In fact, Against the Grain Pet Food is part and parcel of the Sher family business. The telephone number provided on the Against the Grain Pet Food Contact page is 847-537-0102, the same phone number that appears in the February 3rd Evanger’s recall notice. The Against the Grain trademark (serial number 85569018) was registered on 2013-02-12 and is owned by Chelsea L. Sher. And, according to an article in the August 2012 issue of Pet Business, the Against the Grain product line, launched by Chelsea Sher and her twin brother Brett Sher, is manufactured at the Evanger’s factory. In effect, Against the Grain is an Evanger’s brand.

So, what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that the product recalled on February 3rd by Evanger’s was manufactured in June 2016 (with a June 2020 expiry date). The Against the Grain product recalled earlier today was manufactured six months earlier, in December 2015 (with a December 2019 expiry date). This is not a one-shot event.


The Against the Grain recall notice states that the recall was initiated “Out of an abundance of caution.” What does this mean? Now, we enter the realm of speculation – something I am not usually willing to do. This time, though, I’ll make an exception. There are four possibilities that come to mind.

Possibility #1: The same shipment of beef was used to manufacture both recalled products.

This strikes me as highly unlikely. First of all, the February 3rd recall was for ‘Hunks of Beef’, while today’s was for ‘Pulled Beef’ – two entirely different formats. Secondly, if the same shipment was used in both products, the ‘Hunks of Beef’ product would have been manufactured with 6-month old beef. Possible, of course, but not highly probably, unless the company stores its raw meat in the deep freeze for months at a time.

Possibility #2: Beef from the same supplier was used to manufacture both recalled products, and the manufacturer is just being super-cautious.

Evanger’s February 3rd update, posted on the company website, states:

We feel that we have been let down by our supplier, and in reference to the possible presence of pentobarbital, we have let down our customers.  Despite having a relationship for forty years with the supplier of this specific beef, who also services many other pet food companies, we have terminated our relationship with them and will no longer purchase their beef for use in our Hunk of Beef product.  As Hunk of Beef is a very unique product, requiring very specific cuts of meat, this supplier’s meat was used in no other products.

If this is accurate, then the Against the Grain product should not contain meat from this supplier at all. Again, this explanation does not make sense.

Possibility #3: Either the company or FDA arranged for lab testing of a number of Evanger’s products and detected pentobarbital in a sample of the Against the Grain product.

Based on my years of off-and-on contact with the food industry and regulatory bodies, I am confident that FDA is testing extensively for pentobarbital in samples of Evanger’s products. We won’t know what, if anything, they find until their investigation is complete and they release their results. However, a positive finding of pentobarbital would certainly trigger an immediate recall.

Possibility #4: Either the company or FDA has found evidence that meat from an unauthorized source was introduced into the company’s products.

This, too, would be sufficient to trigger a recall “Out of an abundance of caution.” Again, we won’t know whether or not this took place until FDA completes its investigation.


The good news for pet owners is that, so far at least, this problem appears to be confined to products manufactured at Evanger’s Wheeling, IL facility. Let’s hope it stays that way.