STREETSVILLE, Ontario — Retailers are participating in the recall of 60 million containers of “cuts and gravy” style wet pet food produced by Menu Foods here. It was issued after reports of kidney failure and several deaths among pets.
In addition to removing recalled products from its shelves, Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores, whose private-label Ol' Roy and Special Kitty pet foods are manufactured by Menu Foods, is flagging these products at the point of sale.
“Wal-Mart has sent direction to our stores to immediately remove all impacted dog and cat food product from store shelves, based on information provided by Menu Foods, the manufacturer,” said a statement issued by the retailer. “As an additional precautionary measure, we have also put a sales restriction on the products in question so that, should one inadvertently be scanned, a restriction notice will come up for the cashier.”
Menu Foods manufactures private-label dog and cat food for more than a dozen retailers, including Wal-Mart, Publix, Wegmans, Food Lion and Stop & Shop/Giant Foods-Landover. Menu Foods also contract-manufactures national brand pet foods, including some varieties sold under Eukanuba, Iams and Science Diet brands.
The deaths of one dog and nine cats had been reported as of last week, according to the Food and Drug Administration, Washington.
“We're getting a lot of calls from consumers who are requesting specifics about the UPCs of affected products,” said Schnuck Markets spokesman Paul Simon. “Right now we've not made a decision about whether or not we're going to reorder product from Menu Foods in the future; that's something we'll have to look into.”
The St. Louis-based retailer's Schnucks' 13.2-ounce beef cuts/gravy can and its Schnucks' 3-ounce turkey/gravy cat food are part of the recall.
Food Lion, Salisbury, N.C., also has yet to determine whether it will reorder its company-brand pet foods from Menu Foods.
“At this point we're still kind of going over things, and we're working with the supplier to figure everything out, and we've not determined that yet,” said Food Lion spokeswoman Kimberly Blackburn.
Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets has posted a list on its website of the recalled products that were merchandised in its stores prior to the recall. It includes varieties of Publix brand dog food, Iams dog and cat food and Purina Mighty Dog dog food. The retailer is also publicizing the fact that its Publix brand cat food is not among the products that had to be pulled.
When asked if it was concerned that sales of Publix company-brand cat food might be affected, the retailer's spokeswoman, Maria Brous, noted that the health and safety of its customers and their pets are its first priority.
“Our commitment is to doing the right thing for the right reasons,” she said. “Sales are not a part of this equation.”
Publix is responding to customer questions via email or telephone, depending on how it is contacted.
Meanwhile, as of last week, Menu Foods had failed to identify any issues with the products in question.
“We take these complaints very seriously and, while we are still looking for a specific cause, we are acting to err on the side of caution,” said Paul K. Henderson, president and chief executive officer of Menu Foods, in a statement. “We will do whatever is necessary to ensure that our products maintain the very highest quality standards.” Menu Foods did not return SN's request for comment.
Cans and pouches of the pet food in question were produced in Menu Foods' facility in Emporia, Kan., between Dec. 3, 2006, and March 6, 2007.
“Shortly after receipt of the first complaint, Menu Foods initiated technical tests, conducted by both internal and external specialists,” said the statement Menu Foods issued last week.
The timing of the production associated with the complaints and products in question coincides with the introduction of an ingredient from a new supplier, according to the manufacturer.
Published reports identified the ingredient as wheat gluten, a source of protein.
Menu Foods, which did not identify the supplier, stopped using this ingredient shortly after the discovery of possible problems, and production since March 6 has been undertaken using ingredients from another source, according to its statement.
“When a manufacturer develops a new formula, it's not unusual for them to feed it to some animals for a while and do all the work to make sure the new ingredients are appropriate and the product is safe and nutritious,” said John Dix, president, Business Development Index, Columbus, Ohio. “Responsible retailers sourcing private-label products shouldn't accept a reformulated product until they're satisfied that all the proper safety work has been done. Most private-label contracts stipulate that no formula changes can be made without retailer approval.”
Menu Foods is notifying supermarkets by telephone and mail and is arranging for the return of all recalled products, according to the FDA, which is working with Menu Foods to ensure the effectiveness of the recall.
The pet food recall comes just one month after the presence of salmonella was detected in Wal-Mart's private-label Great Value brand of peanut butter that was manufactured in Con Agra's Sylvester, Ga., facility. Last month boxes of Giant Eagle's private-label Egg Free Pasta Ribbons also had to be removed from its shelves because the product, manufactured by American Italian Pasta Co., may have contained eggs.
In order to mitigate risks associated with products that bear a retailer's name but are manufactured by an independent company, the Washington-based Food Marketing Institute suggests that supermarkets review the safety standards manufacturers subscribe to.
“One thing that retailers can do is make sure that their suppliers are certified under the Safe Quality Food program,” said FMI spokesman Bill Greer. “This is a third-party auditing program that we're associated with, and they verify that a company is meeting the most rigorous international food safety standards and quality control.”
The independent certification program includes standards for all food commodities, from farm to retail, as well as third-party auditing and training.
“Manufacturers have product liability insurance so that they're covered in terms of lawsuits if someone gets violently ill or killed, but the retailer isn't going to get paid for any loss of reputation,” Dix told SN last month.
In addition to changing suppliers for production, Menu Foods has increased testing of all raw materials and finished goods, according to its statement. It is also working closely with regulatory authorities and its customers to learn more and will take whatever additional actions are appropriate, it said in its statement.
The recall could cost the supplier between $30 million and $40 million. It is aggressively producing product to replenish customers as quickly as possible, it said.
The website, www.menufoods.com/recall, contains comprehensive lists of affected dog and cat foods by retailer and brand.