Putting Nutrition Into Practice—A Discussion of Pet Nutrition Recommendations, Compliance and Product Selection - Episode 3
What does it mean for food to be quality control tested?
How companies, big or small, can quality control test their food, what contaminations to look out for, plus the importance of the AAFCO label on pet food.
View the full video transcription below.
Adam Christman, DVM, MBA: Dr Cline, what does it mean for food to be quality control tested?
Martha Cline, DVM, Diplomate ACVN: Yeah. So, I think a lot of pet owners when they think about pet food quality, they're just thinking about the label. But when I'm thinking about pet food quality, I'm also thinking about the manufacturing process as well—that's probably where the quality of pet food comes into play more so than really anything we're going to necessarily see on the pet food label. So, certain things that I'm going to think about—and again, I should say that the quality controls that go into pet food are very extensive—but some examples [are] there may be certain manufacturers that may have independent certification, for example, through the Global Food Safety Initiative. I also think it's important—from a quality control standpoint—if you're going to formulate a food and you're going to make a formulated pet food and you're not going to put it through feeding trials...then you're then testing the food for nutrients after production. So, you're making sure that everything that looked good on paper is actually being produced into the food. Then of course, there's going to be looking for various hazards. So, if you have ingredients that you're taking in, that may be at a higher risk for certain types of pathogens, or certain types of toxicities, [make sure] you're screening that before you even put it into your product to [ensure] it doesn't end up there.
Korinn Saker, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVN: Yeah. To go along with that, I think that again, the words quality and safety are kind of being used interchangeably here, because the certifications that they can get probably are a little bit more focused on the safety of the ingredients than necessarily the quality. But basically, if it's not safe, then it's not really going to be the best quality food. So, a lot of the pet food companies will hopefully we'll be doing testing on the ingredient before it makes it into the plant. So, it's just sitting out there in the truck, and they're going in and doing a very...
Adam Christman, DVM, MBA: Quality control.
Korinn Saker, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVN: Yeah, but they're going in and like it might come in a big truck, and so they're going in different places and getting a good representative sample of the product, and then testing it before they basically let it in the plant. Then as they start to put the ingredients together, they're testing again, for the same sorts of things for nutrient value, but also for contaminants. Then they're running it through metal detectors and things like that to make sure that there's no contaminants that way. After the product comes out of the extruder—or out of being cooked or baked it—they're testing it again, and they're testing it once it gets in the packaging, and before it leaves the plant to go to its destined location. So, I don't think that a lot of individuals appreciate how frequently and how many tests or quality control tests are run on on a product before it's shipped out. But to go along with that is cost, and some of these smaller companies that are offshoots, and ones that call us and say, "Hey, I'd like to make a pet food," or just the startups; they don't have that kind of infrastructure behind them. So, I really don't appreciate how they can do that level of quality control that other companies can. Knowing that I think is important education piece for the client who's purchasing pet food for their companion animal.
Adam Christman, DVM, MBA: What are some of the biggest contaminants that you're concerned about? Like aflatoxin would be one of them for sure.
Martha Cline, DVM, Diplomate ACVN: For sure. Absolutely. I think bacterial contamination is a concern. So, salmonella [and] listeria are probably some of the more common contaminants, we've seen E. coli, and these particular contaminants are not only potentially harmful to the pet but also pose a public health risk. So, they can be harmful to people as well and to the family members within the house.
Adam Christman, DVM, MBA: Right. Yeah, I guess that leads us to the AAFCO statement, too. So, how important is that AAFCO statement, at least for our profession for our clients, and for our pets?
Korinn Saker, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVN: I think it's extremely important. I teach my students that if there's nothing else you know about that diet, what is the AAFCO statement telling you? [Does] the nutritional adequacy claim...mention AAFCO? Does it mention it's been formulated by AAFCO guidelines? Does it mention that it followed the feeding tests guidelines that are put out by AAFCO? Because you can have a nutrition adequacy claim on a product and it doesn't have to have anything to do with AAFCO, you can just make up your own. But AAFCO is—even though it's really like a voluntary type of organization to belong to—I think that it really is the standard; it's the gold standard right now for pet foods that are being made. Really, it is mostly associated with pet foods for healthy pets because obviously, our veterinary products may not meet AAFCO minimums, and sometimes they're not supposed to because it's a veterinary diet for specific disease state. But I think it's necessary for the AAFCO statement to be on there.
Martha Cline, DVM, Diplomate ACVN: Yeah. Again, that's when we're talking about probably 1 of the single most important pieces of information from the pet food label is looking at that nutritional adequacy statement. And again, all pet foods that are making complete and balanced food, should have a nutritional adequacy statement on it. So, it's a huge red flag if a client is purchasing food that doesn't have a statement on it. I had an example from my practice just in the last couple of weeks, where a client bought pet food that she brought in that had no nutritional adequacy statement anywhere. So, I don't have any confidence in that food that that was providing complete and balanced nutrition for my patient. So, that's going to be something that's important when a client is picking out a pet food; to make sure that statement is on the label.
Korinn Saker, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVN: And AAFCO updates their manual every year. So, I think they're constantly checking and double-checking to make sure they're not missing anything, or if they have to make changes...
Adam Christman, DVM, MBA: I will have clients that will ask me, "Dr. Christman, why do I care so much about the AAFCO statement, and what does it mean for a diet to be complete and balanced?" What would be a soundbite that you would share with general practitioners to answer that question to pet owners?
Martha Cline, DVM, Diplomate ACVN: The word complete means that all the nutrients are there, and the word balance means that they're in the correct ratios. So, it's important to have those—that's why we say complete and balanced so that we know [that] essential nutrients are present, and they're present in the correct amounts. So, following the AAFCO guidelines for adult maintenance or for growth; the companies that are making foods to meet those standards are ensuring both of those things.
Korinn Saker, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVN: That the minimums are being met, which is important.