Death count soars in Sportmix pet food aflatoxin investigation


The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received reports of more than 70 pet deaths and more than 80 pet illnesses associated with feeding Sportmix pet food containing potentially fatal levels of aflatoxin.

This count is approximate, according to the FDA, and may not reflect the total number of pets affected. Reports submitted only to the pet food manufacturer are not shared with FDA and are not a part of this count.

Not all of these cases have been officially confirmed as aflatoxin poisoning through laboratory testing or veterinary record review.

Sportmix pet foods are manufactured by Midwestern Pet Foods, Inc.

The company is headquartered in Evansville, Indiana. However, the contaminated pet foods were manufactured in Midwestern’s Oklahoma production facility.

On December 30, 2020, the company announced a recall of certain lots of Sportmix pet foods after the Missouri Department of Agriculture found “very high levels” of aflatoxin in multiple product samples.

Expanded Recall

The original recall has now been expanded to include all pet food products containing corn that were made in the firm’s Oklahoma plant and that expire on or before July 9, 2022—more than 1000 lot codes in all.

Lots of the following pet food products have been recalled if the date/lot code includes an expiration date on or before “07/09/22” and includes “05” in the date/lot code, which identifies products made in the Oklahoma plant:

  • Pro Pac Adult Mini Chunk, 40 lb. bag 
  • Pro Pac Performance Puppy, 40 lb. bag 
  • Splash Fat Cat 32%, 50 lb. bag 
  • Nunn Better Maintenance, 50 lb. bag
  • Sportmix Original Cat, 15 lb. bag
  • Sportmix Original Cat, 31 lb. bag
  • Sportmix Maintenance, 44 lb. bag
  • Sportmix Maintenance, 50 lb. bag
  • Sportmix High Protein, 50 lb. bag
  • Sportmix Energy Plus, 44 lb. bag
  • Sportmix Energy Plus, 50 lb. bag
  • Sportmix Stamina, 44 lb. bag
  • Sportmix Stamina, 50 lb. bag
  • Sportmix Bite Size, 40 lb. bag
  • Sportmix Bite Size, 44 lb. bag
  • Sportmix High Energy, 44 lb. bag
  • Sportmix High Energy, 50 lb. bag
  • Sportmix Premium Puppy, 16.5 lb. bag
  • Sportmix Premium Puppy, 33 lb. bag

Lot code information may be found on the back of bag and will appear in a three-line code, with the top line in format “EXP 03/03/22/05/L#/B###/HH:MM”

Investigation ongoing

The FDA is continuing to investigate the situation in cooperation with the state departments of agriculture for Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, and Washington.

Case counts and the scope of this recall may expand as new information becomes available.

What pet owners need to know

Pets are highly susceptible to aflatoxin poisoning because, unlike people, who eat a varied diet, pets generally eat the same food continuously over extended periods of time. If a pet’s food contains aflatoxins, the toxins could accumulate in the pet’s system as they continue to eat the same food. 

Pets with aflatoxin poisoning may experience symptoms such as sluggishness, loss of appetite, vomiting, jaundice (yellowish tint to the eyes, gums or skin due to liver damage), and/or diarrhea. In some cases, this toxicity can cause long-term liver issues and/or death. Some pets suffer liver damage without showing any symptoms. Pet owners whose pets have been eating the recalled products should contact their veterinarians, especially if they are showing signs of illness.

If your pet has symptoms of aflatoxin poisoning, contact a veterinarian immediately. Even pets without symptoms may have suffered liver damage, so you may want to contact your veterinarian if your pet has eaten any of the recalled products. Provide a full diet history to your veterinarian. You may find it helpful to take a picture of the pet food label, including the lot number.

Don’t feed the recalled products to your pets or any other animal. Contact the company listed on the package for further instructions or throw the products away in a way that children, pets and wildlife cannot access them. Sanitize pet food bowls, scoops, and storage containers using bleach, rinsing well afterwards with water, and drying thoroughly.

There is no evidence to suggest that pet owners who handle products containing aflatoxin are at risk of aflatoxin poisoning. However, pet owners should always wash their hands after handling any pet food.

You can report suspected illness to the FDA electronically through the Safety Reporting Portal or by calling your state’s FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinators. It’s most helpful if you can work with your veterinarian to submit your pet’s medical records as part of your report. For an explanation of the information and level of detail that would be helpful to include in a complaint to the FDA, please see How to Report a Pet Food Complaint.

Recalls and Alerts: January 7 – 9, 2021

Here is today’s list of food safety recalls, product withdrawals, allergy alerts and miscellaneous compliance issues. The live links will take you directly to the official recall notices and company news releases that contain detailed information for each recall and alert.

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Interested in learning more about food safety and the history of foodborne disease outbreaks and investigations? Go to TAINTED to download the first couple of chapters of my new book.

United States

Allergy Alert: FSIS issues public health alert for HyVee mealtime CHICKEN ENCHILADAS (64.4 oz; Lot #21003; Best If Used By 01/10/2021) due to undeclared soy.


Allergy Alert Update: Minhas Sask Ventures Inc. recalls Minhas Craven brand Pina Colada alcoholic beverage (1.75L; UPC 0 62811 11100 9; All batch codes where milk is not declared on the label) due to undeclared milk.

Food Safety Recall: Monaghan Mushrooms Ltd. recalls Belle Grove brand Whole White Mushrooms (227g; Best Before 15 Jan; UPC 8 87462 00000 3) because they may permit the growth of Clostridium botulinum.


Allergy Alert (Germany): Ciloglu Handels GmbH recalls FINDIKLI PESTIL (12 x 300g; Expiry 12.02.2021, 20.04.2021, 01.07.2021 14.08.2021, 07.10.2021, 07.11.2021) due to undeclared peanuts.

Allergy Alert (Netherlands): Hoogvliet recalls Hoogvliet boterhamworst / luncheon meat (Best before 16-01-2021) due to undeclared milk.

Allergy Alert (UK): Premier Selection Sweets recalls The Premier Selection Choc Nibs (All pack sizes; All Best Before dates up to and including 17 December 2021) due to undeclared hazelnuts.

Food Safety Recall (Belgium): Industry recalls Ciloglu brand Watermelon seeds, roasted & salted (200g; Lot #NTX591477; Best before 28/09/2021) due to elevated levels of aflatoxin B1 et ochratoxin A.

Food Safety Recall (Denmark): Midsona Danmark A/S recalls Urtekram Lakridsrod / Licorice root (Best before 23.09.2022) due to elevated levels of ochratoxin A.

Food Safety Recall (Germany): Edeka AG Hamburg recalls EDEKA Bio Heidelbeere in Birne / Organic blueberry in pear (190g glass jar; Best before 28.07.2022) due to foreign matter (pieces of glass) contamination.

Food Safety Recall (Iceland): Aðföng recalls La Pasta di Alessandra brand Tortellini con ripieno di carne / Tortellini with meat filling (1000g; Best before 16-10-2021) and La Pasta di Alessandra brand Tortellini con ripieno di formaggio / Tortellini with cheese filling (1000g; Best before 16-10-2021) due to presence of mold.

Food Safety Recall (Iceland): Ölgerðin Egill Skallagrímsson ehf. recalls Egils brand Malt og appelsín / Malt and orange (0.5 L; Lot #02L20307015730; Best before 02.08.21) due to foreign matter (pieces of glass) contamination.

Food Safety Recall (Ireland): Cully & Sully recalls Cully & Sully Thai Chicken Soup (400g; Use by 16.01.21 (Batches 1, 2, & 3) and 22.01.21 (Batches 1, 2, 3, & 4) due to foreign matter (red plastic packaging) contamination.

Food Safety Recall (Switzerland): Migros recalls various salad products due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination. Please refer to the recall notice for a complete list of affected products.

Food Safety Recall (Switzerland): Lidl recalls Mischsalat / Mixed salad (320g; Use by 08.01.2021 and 09.01.21) due to possible Listeria contamination.

Food Safety Recall (Switzerland): Denner recalls various salad products due to possible Listeria contamination. Please refer to the recall notice for a complete list of affected products.

Food Safety Recall (Switzerland): Aldi Suisse AG recalls various salad products due to possible Listeria contamination. Please refer to the recall notice for a complete list of affected products.

Food Safety Recall (UK): Sainsbury’s recalls Plant Pioneers 6 Caramelised Onion Shroomdogs (300g; Use by 06 January 2021 and 07 January 2021) due to possible foreign matter (pieces of metal) contamination.

Australia and New Zealand

Allergy Alert (Australia): El Cielo recalls White Corn Tortillas Light Flavour 14cm (260g; Use By 040221) due to undeclared gluten.

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.