The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a stern warning to Arrow Reliance Inc. (doing business as Darwin’s Natural Pet Products), following what the agency referred to as an “inadequate” response to violations of the Food Drug and Cosmetics Act (FD&C Act) documented during an August-September 2022 inspection.
The inspection was carried out in response to a consumer complaint received by the FDA, in which the consumer reported that a Darwin’s cat food had caused illness in three kittens. The consumer provided documentation that a stool sample from one of the kittens tested positive for Salmonella.
On July 8, 2022, the FDA was contacted by a consumer who complained that Darwin’s cat food had made her three kittens ill.
The FDA collected unopened packages of the suspect food from the consumer and found Salmonella in two samples.
With the Salmonella-positive results in hand, the FDA urged Darwin’s to initiate a recall of the contaminated products.
The company refused, and the FDA advised Darwin’s that the agency would issue a public caution.
On July 29, 2022, Darwin’s filed a request in federal court for a temporary restraining order to prevent the FDA from releasing information about the contaminated products to the public.
The court rejected the company’s request, and on August 5, 2022, the FDA finally was able to issue a caution to pet owners, advising them not to feed certain Darwin’s cat foods to their pets due to Salmonella contamination.
On August 23, 2022, the FDA began an inspection of Darwin’s manufacturing facility and, on September 30, 2022, handed a completed list of Inspectional Observations (FDA Form 483) to the company.
The company’s Director of Quality replied to the list of observations on October 14th.
What Darwin’s claims
Darwin’s claims that its Salmonella-contaminated raw pet foods are not adulterated, because (a) the microbe is not an “added substance,” and (b) it is up to the FDA to demonstrate that the Salmonella is present at a level that makes it “ordinarily injurious” to the intended consumer.
In its filing for the temporary restraining order, the company made reference to USDA enforcement policies for Salmonella and questioned why it should be acceptable for the pathogen to be present in raw poultry, beef and other meats for human consumption, but not in pet food.
1. Adulterated Animal Food
The FDA collected and analyzed unopened samples from the complainant.
One of the samples contained Salmonella Typhimurium, a serotype well known to cause both human and animal illness.
A second sample contained both Salmonella Typhimurium and Salmonella Kentucky, another serotype known to cause disease.
A third sample collected during the inspection of Darwin’s manufacturing facility also yielded Salmonella Typhimurium.
Because Salmonella can cause serious–sometimes fatal–illness in humans and in animals, the FDA considers the presence of the microbe at any level to be hazardous if the food is meant to be consumed without cooking.
Therefore, the three lots of Salmonella-contaminated cat food were adulterated within the meaning of the FD&C Act, according to the Warning Letter.
2. Use of an Unapproved Food Additive
In 2021, the FDA expressed its concern to Darwin’s regarding the company’s use of peroxyacetic acid (PAA) as an additive to control pathogens in its raw pet foods, as the chemical was not “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) for the intended use.
During the 2022 inspection, the FDA observed that PAA was still being added to the pet foods, and that the company had increased the level of PAA to a concentration significantly higher than the recognized maximum safe level for its use in any food.
The FDA was unable to find any scientific data to indicate that the concentration of PAA incorporated into Darwin’s pet foods was safe for dogs or cats to consume.
The agency also reviewed documentation of a third-party lab study, undertaken on Darwin’s behalf, to validate the ability of PAA to control pathogens in the company’s raw pet foods. The FDA concluded that the level of pathogen control demonstrated during the study was inadequate to ensure a pathogen-free state in the company’s finished products.
3. Food Facility Registration
Under the FD&C Act, Darwin’s is required to register with the FDA as a “food facility.”
The company has long insisted that it supplies its products directly to customers and, as a “retail food establishment,” is exempt from this mandate.
However, Darwin’s ships the majority of its products to customers through third-party warehouses rather than directly from its manufacturing facility. Therefore, the company does not meet the definition of “retail food establishment” under the FD&C Act.
What happens next?
The company was given fifteen (15) working days to respond to the issues raised in the Warning Letter.
In the absence of a satisfactory response, the FDA may undertake legal action, including the possibility of seizure of products and/or seeking an injunction against the company.
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