BY JAMES ANDREWS | MAY 29, 2012
Update (May 29, 3:30 p.m. Eastern): U.S. Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman Laura Alvey has told Food Safety News that the Salmonella contamination found at Diamond’s Meta, Missouri plant is not from the same strain as that of the Gaston, South Carolina plant. The contamination at the Missouri plant comes from Salmonella Liverpool, while the South Carolina plant — connected to all products except those in the most recent recall expansion — has been contaminated by Salmonella Infantis.
Alvey also said that the Missouri plant has now been included in the FDA’s ongoing investigation into the Diamond Pet Foods Salmonella outbreak and recall.
This article was originally published before the FDA had named the Salmonella strain found at the Missouri plant.
With Diamond Pet Foods on May 18 announcing yet another expansion of its recall of dry pet foods, pet owners again consulted food labels and continued sharing stories of pet illnesses allegedly resulting from Salmonella-contaminated kibble. For some writers covering the recall, the story was already frustratingly familiar.
As the Christian Science Monitor noted days later, the addition of Diamond Naturals Small Breed Lamb & Rice formula was the recall’s eighth expansion, with it now encompassing at least nine brand names and numerous formulas.
This latest expansion also included the first contaminated product made at a facility in Meta, Missouri instead of the original facility linked to the outbreak in Gaston, South Carolina. Diamond also has a production facility in Lathrop, California.
On Tuesday, FDA spokeswoman Laura Alvey told Food Safety News that the contamination at the Missouri plant came from Salmonella Liverpool, not the Salmonella Infantis from the South Carolina plant that triggered the outbreak and recall.
Alvey went on to say that the Missouri plant was now included in the FDA’s ongoing investigation into Diamond.
Pet owners reporting illnesses worldwide
Pets are only rarely tested for gastrointestinal bacteria such as Salmonella, making it impossible to estimate the number ill from the outbreak. Regardless, the FDA does know of two clinically confirmed Salmonella infections in dogs from the same household where they were served a recalled brand.
On the day of the most recent recall expansion, the Calgary Herald in Alberta reported that two cats in a Montreal animal shelter died after eating recalled cat food. Around that same time, another human case was reported in Nova Scotia, bringing the confirmed human cases to 17: 15 in the U.S. and 2 in Canada.
The human cases have occurred in Missouri (3 illnesses), North Carolina (3), Pennsylvania (2), Ohio (2), Michigan (1), Alabama (1), Virginia (1), Connecticut (1), New Jersey (1), Quebec (1), and Nova Scotia (1).
Microbiologist and eFoodAlert author Phyllis Entis has been chronicling her readers’ stories on her website and has been contacted by readers in Ireland and France who reported sickening their dogs after feeding them Taste of the Wild, one of the recalled brands.
On May 21, the public health arm of the Singapore government released a consumer advisory on the recall. Four of the nine affected brands are sold in Singapore.
“This stuff is all around the world,” Entis said. “There are a lot of countries where this product might be, but Diamond — to the best of my knowledge — has not released a list of countries.”
On eFoodAlert, Entis compiled her own list of places Diamond products are likely distributed, which includes countries in Europe, Asia, Australia and South America.
“The sloppiest recall I’ve ever seen”
Since 2005, Susan Thixton has been writing about pet food problems in the U.S. on her website TruthAboutPetFood.com. She’s covered numerous pet food recalls in that time, including the melamine outbreak of 2007 that involved the recall of more than 90 brands.
But when it comes to disorganization, she said, Diamond’s recall surpasses them all.
“This has got to be the sloppiest recall I’ve ever seen,” she told Food Safety News.
From the initial one-brand recall on April 6 to the latest expansion, the Diamond recall has been plagued by hiccups such as corrections to production codes and best-by dates.
What’s more, the company seems to make — and then correct — the same mistakes with successive expansions. Thixton detailed these maneuvers on her website in a post titled “Sloppy, Sloppy, Sloppy.”
Originally, the initial recall included a handful of products with best-by dates of January 3 or 4, 2013. Later, Diamond corrected their production codes and amended the recall to include all products with any best-by date between December 9, 2012 and April 7, 2013.
Twenty days later, Diamond expanded the recall to include a few varieties of Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover’s Soul formulas with best-by dates of January 27 or 28, 2013. Again, the company later amended the dates to the same December-April timeframe for those newly added products.
Other corrections played out with production codes on Canidae and Natural Balance: Recalls that affected a limited number of production codes were later expanded to include a wider array.
Another glaring red flag, both Thixton and Entis said, was that the company seemed to withhold information that would indicate the latest recalled batch was made at the Missouri facility.
It took readers of TruthAboutPetFood.com to uncover that the latest expansion involved an additional plant when they called Diamond’s consumer hotline. The FDA later indepently confirmed that information with Entis.
The end result of all this, Thixton said, has been a lot of frustrated and confused pet owners.
Some decisions by the FDA related to the recall have left Entis similarly perplexed. Following Diamond’s outbreak and recalls, the FDA inspected their South Carolina facility and found a number of sanitation deficiencies, but did not perform more tests sometimes done during such inspections.
“I’m certainly surprised and disappointed that FDA did not perform environmental and ingredient testing, especially considering the problems they observed during their inspection of the Gaston plant,” Entis said.
The FDA has given no word on whether it will investigate the Missouri plant responsible for the latest expansion, or whether or not it will look into a connection between the contaminations at the two plants.
For now, Entis and Thixton plan to continue chronicling the recall and spreading word about any further developments.
Thixton recommended pet owners who suspect their pets have eaten recalled products to keep a close eye on them and watch for any changes to their eating habits or behavior.
“Any pet food company is capable of human error, but our pets have keener senses than we do,” she said. “I’m a big believer in listening to pets. Know what’s normal behavior and pay attention to that daily. And be diligent.”