Fur Your Consideration - Pet Food Blog
Beyond Guaranteed Analysis: Other Testing Considerations
Now that we have guaranteed analysis checked off of the list of topics to cover we can move on to some additional testing considerations for pet foods and pet treats. If you haven’t checked guaranteed analysis off of your list, you’re in luck – take a look at this blog focused on Guaranteed Analysis. This series is focused on getting new pet food, pet treat, and pet supplement businesses headed down the right path.
Understanding the risks associated with each of your products is important. Identifying those risks, developing a plan to address the risks, performing microbial testing on your products, and testing the environment that the products are manufactured in are keys in ensuring the safety of the end product going to the consumer.
In pet food, supplements, treats, there is zero tolerance for pathogens such as Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes. Pathogens are considered adulterants under the new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) regulations. Often, pet foods are down on the floor where small children can easily access the food or the food dish. People must handle foods they are serving to their pets as well – opening, scooping, etc. Treats are almost always hand-held before they are provided to a pet. The last thing you want to do is make a pet or their human family sick by exposing them to harmful pathogens or molds.
Microbes will also affect the shelf life/long term stability of a final product. Yeasts, molds, and other microbes will make themselves at home and use the nutritional components to grow.
Stability or Shelf Life
We receive a lot of calls from clients looking for help determining the shelf life of their products. Depending on the specifications or intended use of the product, the tests to consider vary.
First and foremost, you may want to consider eliminating the presence of pathogens in your product if you do not routinely have this type of testing performed. Stability studies are an investment from a monetary perspective as well as a time perspective. If pathogens are present in your product, in most cases a client will not want to spend the money or effort continuing a study until they have the pathogen issue figured out and addressed. In addition to pathogens, yeast and molds as well as aerobic plate count (APC) may be performed to better understand the products susceptibility to microbial growth over time.
Rancidity, nutrient content, and food safety are all important pieces to the shelf life puzzle. We will elaborate more on this topic later in our series.
On the opposite side of the spectrum from contaminants such as pathogens, pesticides, and mycotoxins, there are essential nutrients that must be considered. For all pet foods represented as “Complete and Balanced” per the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) Official Publication, the food must meet specific guidelines for nutrient content. Both cats and dogs have their own unique set of nutrient requirements listed within the official publication.
Pets tend to get one type of food for all of their meals and it is typical that the pet will receive the same pet food for the duration of their adult life. This is why it is important for foods to be nutritionally adequate. If a pet’s sole source of nutrition is deficient in one area or another, that pet will likely have health issues associated with the deficiency. Insufficient taurine in a feline diet can be deadly. More information on this topic specifically can be found in our “Cats and Taurine” infographic here. The same can be said for excessive quantities of certain compounds. Vitamin D is a good example – excess Vitamin D can cause vomiting, seizures, and a slew of other problems that can ultimately lead to death.
As mentioned in the last blog about guaranteed analysis, maybe you have access to a robust ingredient database or maybe you don’t. Either way, testing your pet foods is a good step to understanding the amount of each nutrient it will provide. However, it should be understood that just because an analysis shows that a compound is there, doesn’t mean that 100% of that amount of the compound is bioavailable to the animal it is fed to. This is where feeding trials come in.
It is possible that you do not have a pet food, but instead have a treat or a supplement that you are making claims on. Does your treat have omegas in it from an ingredient like flax? Are you marketing a pet supplement that supports joint mobility with glucosamine and chondroitin? It is important to verify that what is listed on your label/package is actually in the product (in accordance with the federal and state laws). If the product doesn’t meet the label claim at any point during the shelf life, that product has been mislabeled and there are repercussions for mislabeling.
Nothing is worse than sitting down to eat something and ending up with an off-flavor, soapy tasting food. Off odors and flavors are indicators of fat rancidity/oxidation. Like humans, animals can pick up on these odors and flavors too. Pets have a heightened sense of smell and taste – rancidity can reduce the palatability of a product, resulting in rejection of the food, and cause upset stomach if consumed. Evaluating high-fat ingredients before they are added can help avoid ending up with a costly, rancid, non-consumable final product. Examples of high risk ingredients may be: Tallow, fish oil, meats containing large amounts of fat, etc.
This blog is a high-level view of items impacting pet foods from start to finish. As we continue to develop this series each month will cover, in far greater detail, the above mentioned topics. If rancidity was an area of interest, next month’s blog is for you…
Kari Nichols, Senior Project Manager - Pet Nutrition
Eurofins Nutrition Analysis Center (Des Moines, IA)