Why Recalls Happen: A Sunshine Mills, Inc. Case Study, Part 2 (Salmonella)


On August 4, 2020, the Georgia Department of Agriculture detected Salmonella in a sample of Nature’s Menu® Super Premium Dog Food with a Blend of Real Chicken & Quail, manufactured by Sunshine Mills, Inc. (Sunshine).

The state notified Sunshine of its finding on August 12th.

Twelve days later, the company announced a recall of multiple lot codes of the Nature’s Menu dog food.

On September 8, 2020, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began an investigation of Sunshine’s Tupelo, Mississippi facility.

What the FDA inspector found

  • Finished product storage bins that are not covered by the company’s environmental monitoring program or sanitation schedules
  • Inadequate sanitation prevention controls, including dry dog food build-up on the surface of certain equipment and pitted and porous surfaces on interior surface welds
  • Sanitation control monitoring records that are not reviewed by a responsible individual
  • Inadequate corrective action after receiving notification from Georgia of the Salmonella-positive result
  • Inadequate evaluation of the scope of Salmonella contamination across multiple batches of finished product
  • Pre-filling of the sanitation checklist before the sanitizing procedures were carried out

How Sunshine responded

The company responded to most of the FDA inspector’s observations by acknowledging their accuracy and promising corrections.

In response to the inspector’s complaint about the inadequacy of Sunshine’s corrective actions regarding the detection of Salmonella, Phil Bates, Chief Operating Officer of Sunshine Mills, Inc., placed a portion of the blame on the State of Georgia, saying,

“We were in the process of investigating the detection of Salmonella spp. in the finished dog food product. Upon notification from the State of Georgia, a request was made for a split sample of the product in question which is required to be provided under Georgia law. The investigation proceeded with testing for Salmonella spp. in the retain sample of the product in question which was negative. We were subsequently informed that Georgia would not be able to provide the split sample for testing. The inability of Georgia to provide the split sample for testing delayed the investigation and implementation of corrective actions.”

Obtained in response to Freedom of Information Act request

Bates also blamed the leader of the sanitation crew for pre-filling the checklist, adding that the proper procedure had since been reviewed with the Sanitation Lead and with each member of the crew.

Why Salmonella contamination of a pet food matters

The FDA has this to say about the risks of Salmonella infections to dogs and cats.

Salmonellosis is uncommon in dogs and cats, but they can be carriers of the bacteria. This means that even if the pets don’t show symptoms of salmonellosis, they can still shed Salmonella in their stool and saliva and then spread the bacteria to the home environment and to people and other pets in the household. For example, cats can spread Salmonella through shared litter boxes or when roaming throughout the house, such as on kitchen countertops. Some ways dogs can spread the bacteria is when they give people kisses or have stool accidents inside the home. Pet waste from both sick and healthy pets can be a source of infection for people.

When the disease is seen in an adult dog or cat, the animal typically has another infection or health problem at the same time. Puppies and kittens are more likely to show signs of disease. Signs of salmonellosis in dogs and cats include:

  • Vomiting;
  • Diarrhea (which may be bloody);
  • Fever;
  • Loss of appetite; and
  • Decreased activity level.

The Salmonella incident investigation overlapped with the FDA’s investigation of aflatoxin contamination in pet food manufactured in the same Sunshine facility (See Part 1). Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series, which will look at the interweaving of the two incidents and how they relate to conditions that were revealed at the manufacturing plant in 2018, when the company’s pet foods were found to contain excessive levels of vitamin D.

Note: Information contained in this story was obtained from the FDA website and from documents furnished by FDA in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

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