Sportmix Pet Food aflatoxin recall now international in scope – Updated January 26, 2021


Aflatoxin-contaminated pet foods may have been exported to as many as thirty-five (35) countries, according to an update on the Midwestern Pet Foods aflatoxin investigation released today by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The Damage Done

The FDA is now aware of more than 110 dogs that died and more than 210 pets that became sick after having eaten a Sportmix pet food.

Although the vast majority of the case reports involve dogs, the FDA has received a couple of reports of sick cats, according to an agency spokesperson.

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

Reports submitted only to the pet food manufacturer are not shared with FDA and are not a part of this count. 

The Recall

On January 11, 2021, Midwestern Pet Foods, Inc. expanded an earlier recall to encompass “all pet foods containing corn and manufactured in the company’s Oklahoma plant, and having an expiration date on or before July 9, 2022.”

The list of recalled products includes multiple lot numbers of the following items:

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

According to the recall notice, the affected products were distributed nationally to online distributors and retail stores nationwide. 

The FDA has since determined that one or more of the recalled products may have been exported to the following countries: Bahrain, Barbados, Chile, Costa Rica, Curacao, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Polynesia, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Korea, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Singapore, Taiwan, Trinidad, Ukraine, UAE, Uruguay, and Vietnam.

The State of the States

Several state departments of agriculture are aiding the FDA in its response to the aflatoxin contamination by monitoring the effectiveness of the recall at the retail level and by testing samples of Midwestern’s products.

Several states, including Arkansas, Kansas and New Mexico and Washington, are in the process of analyzing multiple Midwestern Pet Foods samples for the presence of aflatoxin.

As of the end of last week, New Mexico had tested twelve samples, eleven of which were negative for aflatoxin. A sample of Sportmix Original Cat Food (Lot: EXP 04/29/22/05/L3/B167 14:21) contained 46 parts per billion (ppb) of aflatoxin, according to a Department of Agriculture spokesperson.

Kansas has completed testing on three samples, according to a spokesperson for the Kansas Department of Agriculture. Two of the samples did not contain aflatoxin; however, a third sample contained, on average, ~80 ppb, which is approximately four times the FDA’s 20 ppb action level for aflatoxin in pet food.

What Pet Owners Should Do

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.

What Veterinarians Should Do

The FDA urges veterinarians treating aflatoxin poisoning to ask their clients for a diet history. We also welcome case reports, especially those confirmed through diagnostic testing. You can submit these reports electronically through the FDA Safety Reporting Portal or by calling your state’s FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinators. 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.

Lawsuits Filed

At least two class action suits already have been filed against Midwestern Pet Foods by pet owners, alleging their dogs were poisoned by the company’s products.

Recalls and Alerts: January 21 – 23, 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: Door County Coffee & Tea Co recalls French Vanilla Flavored Cappuccino Single Serve Cups (5.1 oz; Lot codes 1C092220-2 & 1C120220-A; Expiry dates 9/22/2022 & 12/2/2022, respectively) due to undeclared milk and soy.

Allergy Alert: Frito-Lay recalls Ruffles Original Potato Chips, “Party Size” (13 1/2 oz; Both “Guaranteed Fresh” date and price of 23 MAR 2021 5.29 And the Manufacturing Code 225335014
73  03:xx with xx = 00 through 13) due to undeclared milk.

Food Safety Recall: Publix Super Markets, Inc. recalls select Publix Steam In Bag products prepared in-store due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination of the butternut squash ingredient. Please refer to the recall notice for a complete list of affected products.

Food Safety Recall: Bob Evans Farms, Inc.  recalls Bob Evans Italian Sausage (1-lb chubs; Lot #0352; Use/Frz By JAN 31 21) due to possible foreign matter (thin blue rubber) contamination.

Food Safety Recall: House-Autry Mills, Inc. recalls House-Autry Tartar Sauce (9 oz; Best by BB 08182021, BB 08232021, BB 09162021, BB 09172021, BB 09182021 and BB 09212021) due to spoilage.

Canada

Allergy Alert: Waisee Trading Co. Ltd. recalls Taidian Xiaolong Bun (15-count; UPC 858093700017; All units) due to undeclared oyster and wheat.

Allergy Alert: Hinnawi Bros. Bagel & Café recalls Bagels sésame végétalien (Best before dates up to and including 18 March 2021) and Bagels Nature végétalien (Best before dates up to and including 18 March 2021) due to undeclared egg.

Food Safety Recall: Clover Leaf Seafoods Corp. recalls Clover Leaf brand Sardines Boneless Fillets – Garlic & Chive in Oil (106g; Batch codes 0170CBXP 2025 JN 18 & 0204CBXP 2025 JL 22; UPC 0 61362 46008 6) and Sardines Boneless Fillets – Smoked Jalapeño in Oil (106g; Batch codes 0171CBXP 2025 JN 19, 0218CBXP 2025 AU 05 & 0307CBXS 2025 NO 02; UPC 0 61362 46009 3) because they may permit the growth of Clostridium botulinum

Food Safety Recall: Paillard de l’Auvergne recalls certain soups packed in glass jars due to lack of the required “Garder réfrigéré” label instruction. Please refer to the recall notice for a complete list of affected products.

Food Safety Recall: Brasserie Artisanale Le Trou du Diable recalls two products packed in glass jars due to lack of the required “Garder réfrigéré” label instruction. Please refer to the recall notice for a complete list of affected products.

Food Safety Recall: Service – Création Milorya recalls SAUCE À LA VIANDE / Meat sauce (1L glass jars; All product sold up to and including 22 January 2021) due to improper manufacturing and/or packing conditions that may render the product unsafe to consume and also due to lack of proper ingredient labeling.

Food Safety Recall: Messara Imports recalls Farma Elassonas brand P.D.O Kefalograviera cheese (Variable weight; Lot #260420; Expiry date 10/26/2021; UPC starts with 2 726905) due to E. coli contamination.

Food Safety Recall: St. Francis Herb Farm Inc. recalls St. Francis Herb Farm 52 Fields brand Coconut Oil and Ghee (370g; Lot #0530120; Best before MA2022FE; UPC 8 17695 00206 2) due to mold and bacteria.

Europe

Allergy Alert (Iceland): Múlakaffi recalls Hjónabakki, þorramatur fyrir tvo / dry food for two (Best before 17.01.2021 & 23.01.2021) due to undeclared egg and mustard.

Food Safety Recall (France): Fromagerie du Val d’Ormèze recalls Fromagerie du Val d’Ormèze brand Frais de brebis / fresh sheep’s milk cheese (120g; Lot 212006; Expiry dates 11/02/2021, 14/02/2021 & 16/02/2021) and Fromagerie du Val d’Ormèze brand Râpé de brebis bio / Grated sheep’s milk cheese (90g; Lot 212006; Expiry dates 14/02/2021, 15/02/2021, 17/02/2021 & 18/02/2021) due to Salmonella contamination.

Food Safety Recall (Germany): EDEKA Handelsgesellschaft Südwest mbH recalls Linz items and pastries with hazelnuts due to possible foreign matter (pieces of wire) contamination. Please refer to the recall notice for a complete list of affected products.

Food Safety Recall (Germany): Sternenbäck GmbH recalls various baked goods due to possible foreign matter (screw and washer) contamination. Please refer to the recall notice for a complete list of affected products.

Food Safety Recall (UK): Several retailers recall chilled and frozen seafood products due to possible Salmonella contamination. Please refer to the recall notice for a complete list of affected products.

Pet Food Safety Recall (Iceland): Pak ehf. recalls Sportmix original cat food kattafóðri frá Midwestern pet food / Sportmix brand origial cat food (6.8 kg / 15 lbs; Batch no. 07092021L3 05; All expiry dates up to and including 07.09.22; Product of Midwestern Pet Food, USA) due to elevated levels of aflatoxin.

Australia and New Zealand

Food Safety Recall / Allergy Alert (New Zealand): NZ Food Manufacturing Ltd recalls Hai Chuan Heng brand and HiLife brand products (all batches, all dates and all packaging sizes) due to lack of process control and presence of undeclared crustacea, gluten, sesame, soy and sulphites.

Why Recalls Happen: Sunshine Mills, Inc., Part 3


Recalls don’t just happen.

Whether bacterial, chemical, a natural toxin or an undeclared allergen, there is always a triggering event.

In the case of Sunshine Mills, Inc., the trigger was a pair of abnormal findings reported by two different states.

Georgia

On August 4, 2020, the Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA) reported having recovered Salmonella in a sample of Nature’s Menu Super Premium Dog Food brand Natural Dog food with A Blend of Real Chicken & Quail (3-lb bags; Lot code TE2 22 APRIL 2020).

The GDA carries out routine retail-level sampling of pet foods for Salmonella and other pathogens. The Salmonella-positive sample was part of this routine testing program.

On August 12th, Georgia notified Sunshine Mills of the Salmonella-positive result.

Sunshine recalled the offending product on August 24, 2020.

Louisiana

The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF) also performs routine retail surveillance sampling of commercial feeds, including pet foods.

According to a spokesperson for the LDAF, the state analyzes more than 2,000 such products annually, testing for protein, fat, fiber, moisture and minerals. In addition, depending on the products and the time of year, some samples may be tested for one or more of: mycotoxins (including but not limited to Aflatoxin, Fumonisin, and Vomitoxin), toxic heavy metals (i.e. Mercury, Cadmium, Chromium, Arsenic and Lead), Acid and Neutral Detergent Fiber, Total Digestible Fiber, Salmonella spp., Listeria monocytogenes, coliforms, antibiotics, pesticides and herbicides.

On August 17, 2020, the LDAF detected aflatoxin in a sample of Family Pet Meaty Cuts Beef Chicken & Cheese Flavors Premium Dog Food, manufactured by Sunshine Mills for Midwood Brands LLC. The product was sold in Family Dollar stores.

The level of aflatoxin in the dry dog food was four times the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) action level for pet foods.

Upon finding the positive test results, the LDAF contacted the company to request a recall, and also placed a “stop sale” order on the product.

Sunshine Mills recalled the offending product on September 2nd, along with two other brands of dry dog food with similar formulations.

FDA steps in

Both the August recall due to Salmonella and the September recall due to elevated alfatoxin levels were announced on the FDA’s recall page.

On September 8, 2020, an FDA inspector presented a Notice of Inspection to Philip V. Bates, Chief Operating Officer of Sunshine’s Tupelo manufacturing plant. The inspection would continue, off and on, until October 27, 2020.

The FDA has declined to state (in response to a direct question from eFoodAlert) whether this inspection was triggered by the Salmonella contamination or by the alfatoxin finding. However, the timing of the inspection suggests that Louisiana’s detection of elevated aflatoxin in a dog food sample was the catalyst.

Once on the scene, the FDA inspector investigated both contamination issues, reporting on numerous deficiences, summarized in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

Questions left unanswered

Who notified the FDA?

Companies are required to notify the FDA within 24 hours “when there is a reasonable probability that an article of human food or animal food/feed (including pet food) will cause serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals.”

In 2018, when this same manufacturing plant learned that some of its pet foods contained elevated levels of Vitamin D, company management neglected to inform report this finding to the agency’s Reportable Food Registry within the mandatory 24 hour period. On that occasion, six days elapsed between the time Sunshine had confirmed the problem and the time the company’s management notified the FDA.

The FDA has declined to respond to eFoodAlert’s question as to whether the company or the state agencies notified FDA of the Salmonella and aflatoxin problems.

How much aflatoxin was in the contaminated corn ingredient?

Sunshine’s lab technician tested a sample of bulk yellow corn on April 3, 2020 and accepted that load of corn, even though the level of aflatoxin in the corn exceeded the company’s own rejection level.

We do not know how much aflatoxin was in the corn. That is considered by the FDA to be Confidential Commercial Information (CCI).

We do not know what Sunshine’s rejection level is for aflatoxin. This, too, is considered by the FDA to be CCI, and was redacted from the report that was supplied in response to eFoodAlert’s Freedom of Information Act request. It is likely, though, that Sunshine would have set a rejection level that matches the FDA’s 20 parts per billion (ppb) action level for aflatoxin in pet foods and pet food ingredients.

How much did Sunshine know and when did they know it?

At some point after the company had distributed pet foods containing the contaminated corn, the company found elevated aflatoxin levels in samples of three product formulas, specifically:

  • Savory Beef, Chicken, Cheese 18%
  • Complete Nutrition 21-10
  • TSC Bites & Bones

The Savory Beef, Chicken, Cheese formula was covered in the initial aflatoxin recall dated September 2, 2020.

The remaining two formulations were included in the expanded recall dated October 8, 2020.

According to the lot code information contained in the recall notices, all of the recalled products were manufactured during April 3–5, 2020.

The FDA has declined to reveal either the date (or dates) on which Sunshine performed aflatoxin tests on these products, or the level of aflatoxin found in the three product formulas, citing—you guessed it—Confidential Commercial Information.

What next for Sunshine Mills?

On June 25, 2019, the FDA issued a formal Warning Letter to Sunshine Mills, Inc., listing multiple violations that led to the presence of excessive vitamin D in its pet foods, and expressing dissatisfaction with the company’s corrective actions.

Despite the Warning Letter, the first item cited in this summer’s investigation was a repeat observation from the previous inspection. Specifically, the company “did not identify and implement preventive controls to ensure that any hazards requiring a preventive control are significantly minimized or prevented.”

The FDA inspector’s report also makes clear that the company’s corrective actions in response to both the Salmonella and the aflatoxin contamination issues were inadequate.

What are the consequences for a repeat offender? Will there be another Warning Letter? Another slap on the wrist?

Or will the Food and Drug Administration take more drastic action?

Stay tuned for developments.