Evangers denied knowledge of horse meat despite its license

This story by Phyllis Entis first appeared in Food Safety News and is reposted here with permission.

Even though the owners of Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Co. Inc. had a state license to process horse meat from Feb. 14, 2016, through Aug. 17, 2017, they denied any knowledge of how horse meat found its way into their products.

The pet food company’s license application submitted to the Illinois Department of Agriculture described Evanger’s operations as “canning of pet food” and indicated the horse meat would be sold as “canned pet food” according to information obtained from the department in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

It is not illegal to use horse meat as pet food in the United States, as long as it’s presence is disclosed on the labeling, a spokesperson for the Food and Drug Administration said.

Evanger’s horse meat processing activities predated the issuance of the state license.

In April 2015, the Illinois agriculture department received a complaint from the Wheeling, IL, fire marshal about improper food storage and disposal, clogged and maggot-filled grease traps, and other unsanitary conditions at Evanger’s Wheeling Road facility. The state initiated an inspection of the facility on May 27, 2015.

During the investigation of the company’s operations, inspectors noted the manufacture of a dog food with horse meat as an ingredient.

As a result of conditions observed during the May inspection, the state of Illinois filed a formal complaint against Evanger’s, charging the company with violations of the Illinois Commercial Feed Act of 1961, the Illinois Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, and the Illinois Horse Meat Act.

The complaint stated that Evanger’s “… canned, packed or otherwise processed or prepared for sale a pet food with horsemeat listed as its main ingredient” without having secured a license to do so, and that the company did so under unsanitary conditions.

According to information contained in the report on a follow-up inspection, conducted in January 2016, Evanger manufactured only canned dog and cat foods in the Wheeling facility, receiving raw and frozen pork, chicken, beef and horse meats. The horse meat was imported from foreign countries, the report stated.

One year later, in January 2017, FDA launched an investigation into pentobarbital contamination in a canned, wet dog food manufactured by Evanger’s in June 2016. The investigation was in response to a consumer complaint following the death of a dog who had been fed some “Evanger’s Hunk of Beef au Jus” dog food. 

During the investigation, FDA arranged for lab tests to determine the species of meats present in several samples of the same batch of food eaten by the dead dog. Traces of horse antigens were found in one of the samples.

As reported by Food Safety News in February 2017, those level of horse antigens would be consistent with incidental cross-contamination if horse meat was processed in the same facility as the beef-based dog food.

The owners of Evanger’s denied any knowledge of how horse meat had found its way into their products, and cast blame on their beef supplier, Bailey Farms LLC. On April 25, 2017, Evanger’s filed a lawsuit against Bailey, alleging that it had shipped pentobarbital-contaminated horsement instead of the “pet food quality beef” ordered by Evanger’s.

At the time the lawsuit was filed, and throughout the entire period during which the company manufactured dog food that was later found to be adulterated with pentobarbital, Evanger’s license to process horse meat was active and in force. 

Evanger’s horse meat license expired in August 2017 and has not been renewed.

Dog Food Meat Supplier Aces Inspection; Investigation Ongoing

Questions remain on source of euthanasia drug in Evanger’s and Against the Grain pet food

recalled-evangers-dog-food-canThe Food and Drug Administration has completed its investigation into the supplier that furnished meat used in recalled canned dog food that was found to contain the animal euthanasia drug pentobarbital.

As yet unidentified, the supplier provides meat used in Evanger’s brand Hunk of Beef and Nutripack’s Against the Grain Pulled Beef brand dog foods, both of which are under recall. At least five dogs have required medical treatment and one died.

The FDA determined that the supplier appears to “… have systems in place to ensure that euthanized animals are segregated from animal protein going for animal food use,” an agency spokesperson said Thursday.

An FDA Form 483 Inspectional Observations report, however, will not be issued because such reports are only filed when investigators note deficiencies, which they did not do regarding the supplier for Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Co.

Such animal protein meat suppliers are regulated by FDA and may also be subject to state jurisdiction, depending on the state in which they are located. No sub-agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture has jurisdiction over this industry sector.

USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) oversees slaughterhouses and meat processors that produce meat for human consumption. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has no involvement in meat inspection at all, except for assisting suppliers with export certifications if they are exporting to other countries, according to a spokesperson for APHIS.

In a Feb. 19 letter addressed to “Dear Pet Parents” and posted on the Evanger’s web site, the company described its supplier as “USDA-APHIS inspected.” Staff from APHIS are now working with Evanger’s to clarify its authority, according to the APHIS spokesperson.

On Feb. 21, Evanger’s notified its customers that an independent test of the contents of a can of Hunk of Beef revealed the presence of horse and cow DNA in the product. The Sher family, which owns Evanger’s and Nutripack, cast blame on the meat supplier for the pentobarbital adulteration.

This is in contrast to FDA’s report that cans of Hunk of Beef obtained from the owner of the sickened dogs and from the retail location where the pet food was purchased contained beef. No Against the Grain samples were tested for species identification.

The cans of Hunk of Beef pet food were examined by a USDA-FSIS lab at FDA’s request. According to the test protocol, available on the FSIS website, the contents of a can of food would have been minced or diced and thoroughly mixed before analysis to ensure that the portion used for testing was representative of the entire can.

When asked to comment on the apparent discrepancy between Evanger’s independent DNA test result and the results reported by FSIS, a spokesperson for USDA-FSIS said the government did find trace amounts of pig and horse in the dog food.

“Although this was not an FSIS regulated-product, FDA requested that FSIS conduct speciation testing for Evanger’s Hunk of Beef dog food product,” the spokesperson said. “FSIS was contacted by FDA after they had determined that the Pentobarbital dog food product was adulterated with Pentobarbital. Agency speciation testing confirmed that the adulterated product was bovine (beef). Trace amounts of pork and equine were also found, but both were less than 2 percent and therefore not reportable.”

These trace amounts are consistent with incidental cross-contamination that can occur when meat from different species are processed on the same production line. The trace amounts of pig and horse do not explain the source of the pentobarbital-adulterated meat in the Hunk of Beef and Against the Grain dog foods.

The investigation so far

In a Feb. 17 consumer advisory, the FDA cautioned the public not to feed the recalled Evanger’s and Against the Grain canned dog food products to their pets. The products in question were recalled on Feb. 3 and Feb. 9 by Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Company Inc. and Against the Grain, respectively, after pentobarbital was confirmed in samples of both products.

In conjunction with the advisory, FDA released two Form 483 Inspectional Observation reports. The reports detailed the conditions found by inspectors during visits to Evanger’s production facility in Wheeling, IL, and to the facility belonging to Nutripack LLC in Markham, IL.

On Feb. 21, Evanger’s notified its customers that the company was planning to expand the recall of Evanger’s and Against the Grain pet foods to include all outstanding production of Hunk of Beef, Braised Beef Chunks with Gravy, and Against the Grain Pulled Beef. Company officials told FDA they expect to release the official announcement of the expanded recall by the end of this week.

Kosher for animal use

In addition to marketing its pet foods as “human grade” and made with “USDA-inspected meats,” Evanger’s, citing an endorsement from the Chicago Rabbinical Council (cRc), promotes many of its products as “Kosher for Animal Use.”

A spokesperson for the cRc said the endorsement doesn’t mean the pet food is kosher in the traditional sense, but does mean certain expectations are met.

“When we provide a kosher endorsement we expect not only that all kosher laws are observed, but that the company acts in an ethical manner. While we cannot comment directly on this incident, we call upon all companies to maintain the highest standards of business,” the cRc spokesperson explained.

“Also, please be aware that Evanger’s’ products are NOT kosher in the regular sense. It is not kosher to consume, for anyone that observes kosher. It is endorsed by the cRc to feed it to one’s pet. Now animals of kosher observant individuals are not required to observe kosher — or any other commandment.

“The issue, and reason for the cRc endorsement, is that there are a few foods that not only may not be eaten by someone that is kosher observant, but one may also not derive any tangible benefit from them. An example would be leavened bread — Chometz — on Passover. It is those foods that a kosher observant person may not serve to their pets. The cRc endorses certain Evanger’s’ products that they are free from this concern, i.e. they do not contain any foods that a kosher observant person may not derive benefit from. It is for this reason that we do not allow Evanger’s to use the cRc standard kosher logo, to differentiate it from a standard kosher product.”

The cRc spokesperson further clarified that the presence of non-kosher species such as horse meat or pork would not be a concern in pet food.

Unanswered question

The FDA investigation into the Evanger’s case is still open and active. FDA has reviewed the customer list for the meat supplier and is in the process of following up as appropriate, according to a spokesperson.

While it may be comforting to the meat supplier’s other customers to learn that FDA found no deficiencies during the course of the recent inspection, the results leave a major question unanswered: Where did the pentobarbital-contaminated meat come from?

FDA continues to encourage consumers to report problems with Evanger’s products through the Safety Reporting Portal or by contacting a Consumer Complaint Coordinator. Please retain empty cans or partially used cans of food to facilitate collection of specific lot number information. Additional information is available on the FDA web page, How to Report a Pet Food Complaint.

This article first appeared on Food Safety News and is reposted here with permission.