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Pet treats food safety

Pet treats food safety

Pampered pooches and their preferred pet treats

Aussies love their pets. 

In fact, we have one of the highest pet ownership rates in the world. The RSPCA reports that as of March, 2020, there’s over 29 million pets in Australia. Dogs, unsurprisingly, are the most common at 40%, with cats coming in second at 27%.

Pet population
Percentage of households with pets by pet type


We all know owning a pet has many positive health benefits. Our pets can make us physically and mentally healthier and many pet owners have adopted ‘pet parenting’ behaviours, mimicking traditional parent-child relationships.

It’s therefore no surprise pet parents want only the best for their fur babies. Growing concern over the contents of commercial pet foods, along with the expanding social lives of dogs, has renewed interest in quality dehydrated pet treats. Dehydrated pet foods have many of the benefits of fresh/frozen raw food, but in an easier way for people to manage.

Pet owners also want honest food safety information surrounding the sourcing, production and storage of commercially dehydrated pet treats. And rightly so. Turning fresh meat, fruit or vegetables into tasty pet treats is serious business. It’s also big business with Australian pet owners spending more than $3.9 billion each year on pet food alone.


Sourcing meat for pet consumption

Pet owners place a lot of trust in pet food manufacturers to produce high quality, nutritious, palatable and safe pet foods.

Meat production for pet food is essentially self-regulated with voluntary standards covered in the Australian Standard (AS5812-2017). Developed in 2011 by representatives from federal and state government, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) and the Pet Food Industry Association Australia (PFIAA), and supported by Standards Australia, it was created to offer an official Australian standard for the production and supply of manufactured pet food for dogs and cats.

Additional measures relating to the manufacture of meat and meat related products is covered in the Standard for the Hygienic Production of Pet Meat: PISC technical report 88 – Amended 2009 (PISC88). This is administered by state food authorities. 

The standard, revised and improved as recently as 2017, aims to ensure product quality and integrity. The standard covers:

  • management of raw material selection and handling, 
  • factory management, 
  • product formulation, 
  • process monitoring and control, and; 
  • labelling consistency of finished pet foods. 

A recent Pet Food Industry Association Australia (PFIAA) submission to a parliamentary inquiry into pet food safety stated:

‘While AS5812 is currently a voluntary standard, the standard has been widely adopted by manufacturing members of the PFIAA and it is estimated that more than 95% by volume of manufactured pet food sold in Australia is supplied by members of the PFIAA. The PFIAA strongly supports the continued use of AS5812 as the standard for the production and supply of domestic and imported pet foods sold in Australia.’

PISC 88 covers minimum requirements for hygiene in:

  • harvesting, 
  • transportation, 
  • processing, 
  • identification, 
  • packaging, and; 
  • storage.

It also has provisions for the use of fallen stock, that is, the body of a farm animal that has died for reasons other than slaughter.

While Standards Australia is no longer involved in the endorsement and publication process for this Standard, compliance is still required from those involved in the pet meat production supply chain.


Storing and transportation of meat intended for use in pet food

The Standard for the Hygienic Production of Pet Meat: PISC technical report 88 – Amended 2009 advises:

‘Chiller and freezer capacity adequate for maximum daily production and able to accommodate the total quantity of product likely to be held on the premises at any one time.’

It continues:

  • Facilities for the chilling and storage of carcases shall be constructed to enable the surface temperature of carcases to be maintained at not more than 7°C.
  • Facilities for the chilling and storage of pet meat other than carcases shall be constructed to enable product temperature to be maintained at not more than 5°C.

Should the surface temperature of a carcass, removed from a chiller from further processing, rise above 7°C, it must be refrigerated within one hour of starting the processing.

When transporting the meat:

‘Proper insulation, and where necessary refrigeration equipment, shall be provided to maintain during transportation: 

(a) the surface temperature of carcases at not more than 7°C 

(b) the internal temperature of meat other than carcases at not more than 5°C.’


Extra ingredients

A great way to have a healthy dog is to introduce fresh fruit and vegetables into their diet. An easy way to do this is via dehydrated pet treats. While fresh fruit and veggies can be added to an animal’s diet alone, it’s more common in commercially prepared pet treats for the fruit and veggies to be incorporated into a meat treat. And similar to a fussy child, a fussy dog won’t even know there’s extra goodness in the food.

A dog’s diet should ideally contain at least 20% vegetables. Vegetables that are especially good for dogs include:

  • green beans, 
  • cabbage, 
  • carrots, 
  • cauliflower, 
  • broccoli, 
  • squash, and;
  • green, leafy vegetables.


Animals and HACCP

Animals used for pet meat must be handled in accordance with the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). 

Originally developed by NASA and a group of food safety specialists in the ‘60s, Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) is an internationally recognised food safety and risk assessment plan. The plan outlines seven key principles in food safety:

  • Hazard Analysis
  • Critical Control Points
  • Critical Limits
  • Critical Control Monitoring
  • Corrective Action
  • Procedures
  • Record Keeping.

While not mandatory in North America, providers to the pet food industry can have their products endorsed under HACCP guidelines.


Packaging and labeling of pet food

As with all things pertaining to pet food, pet food packaging is covered under the voluntary Australian Standard (AS5812-2017). However, a commercial manufacturer must also follow the relevant legislation. In this case, it’s Schedule 2 of the Australian Consumer Law under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. The Act prohibits the making of false claims and misleading or deceptive conduct.

PISC88 states pet meat should be easily identifiable, kept separate from meat for human consumption and stored in a way so as not to cause its deterioration.

‘A container into which stained pet meat is packed at a processing premises shall be marked: 

(a) with the name of the supplier 

(b) with a prominent yellow band on the outermost surface 

(c) with the words ‘Pet Meat – Not for Human Consumption’ 

(d) with the standard numbers for any additives.’

Complementary pet foods and the social animal

Complementary pet foods are those other than the pet’s main food source. In other words, treats, snacks and rewards. And while nobody will argue cats are deserving of treats and tasty snacks, let’s face it, when we think of snacks, training and rewards, we’re thinking dogs.

The use of treats to reward dogs during training or when out and about is nothing new. However, with the upsurge in recent years of pet-centric people and families, along with a more focused concern about the contents of pet food, the ability of commercially produced dehydrated pet treats to become a true market force has never been more pronounced. 

And not only that, dogs in the 21st century are highly social creatures within the community. These days, walking your dog is an expectation of pet parents and families. If you can’t walk your own, you hire someone to do it for you. Pet parks, pet beaches, doggy day care, pet holidays, the list is endless. 

And what’s one thing these activities have in common? 

The need for a portable, healthy, nutritious and delicious pet treats to keep dogs well behaved and well fed while out and about. 

Cheap and nasty dog biscuits as a treat? The 21st century pooch says a firm no thank you.


Storage and shelf life

Just like foods produced for human consumption, pet foods have a similar shelf life. When safely stored in a vacuum-sealed package in a cool, dark spot, dehydrated pet treats can expect to have a shelf life of up to 2 years. If the package shows any condensation or other signs of moisture, if it looks unusual or smells funny, it’s likely to have spoiled. And if it’s mouldy, chuck it in the bin.


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Water activity

Water activity (aw) is a measure of available water in food. That’s not as simple as how much water is in the food though, as some water is bound to other ingredients – like sugar or salt – and isn’t available. In the context of dehydration, this is important as it is the available water that microorganisms will use to facilitate growth.

When too much water is available, microorganisms can grow. Pure water has aw = 1.00 and raw meat has aw = 0.99. For pet treats, following advice for dried meats is a good idea. Dried meats commercially produced in Australia are legally required to be dried to a water activity level of less than 0.85. It’s a good idea to aim a bit lower for pet treats. For fruits aim for aw = <0.85 to 0.60 and vegetable-based pet treats around aw = <0.60. 


Cleaning

There’s a few basic principles to adhere to in any environment where meat and food products are being prepared. These include:

  • Having a safe water supply
  • Maintaining food contact surfaces in clean condition
  • Preventing cross-contamination
  • Hand washing, hand sanitising and toilet facilities
  • Protecting food, food packaging materials and food contact surfaces from things like lubricants, fuel, pesticides, cleaning compounds, sanitising agents, and other chemical, physical and biological contaminants
  • Labelling, storing and using toxic compounds safely
  • Controlling employee health
  • Excluding pests
  • Confining and removing wastes

The highest hygiene standards should be maintained every step of the way.  


Cleaning your dehydrator is also essential

Best practice is to clean it between every batch. The trays in our dehydrators are dishwasher safe and the insides of the dehydrator should be cleaned using a cloth and warm soapy water (being careful not to splash water onto the electrical parts). We recommend using a food-safe sanitiser spray to eliminate microbial growth. 

Any cleaning chemicals should be appropriately stored. Staff should be trained how to use cleaning chemicals safely, so as not to cause accidents or contaminate foods.

It’s also important to ensure equipment is thoroughly dried after cleaning to prevent Listeria contamination.

As well as daily cleaning, including throughout the day, regular cleaning and sanitising should be scheduled for things like cool rooms and drains. It’s also a good idea to regularly clean shelving in chillers, door handles, door seals, switches.


Calibrating equipment

All equipment used for monitoring should be regularly checked and calibrated to ensure accuracy. This includes:

  • Thermometers: check weekly
  • Cool room gauges: check monthly
  • Dehydrator temperature gauges: check monthly
  • Water activity meters: according to manufacturer’s instructions
  • Scales: according to manufacturer, by an approved agency


Got questions about how to use your commercial dehydrator safely?

If you’ve any questions about cleaning your commercial dehydrator, recommended settings, or other aspects to ensure a safe final product, let us know. We’re here to help guide you to producing pet treats and other dehydrated foods that are delicious and safe.


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Nicola Smith

Nicola is the owner of NS Consulting, a corporate communications and copywriting consultancy that works with businesses experiencing exciting periods of growth and change. Her clients value her calm, measured and analytical approach along with a safe pair of hands to deliver a range of communications strategy projects. When Nicola isn’t typing at her computer, you’ll find her reading, writing, or at the beach.