Co-authored by Dan Henry, Manufacturing & Food Safety Supervisor for Just Right by Purina, with Jesse Siemen (Product Specialist) and Dan Smith (Senior Quality Specialist) chiming in.
At the end of the day, the most important part about the food that’s in your dog’s bowl all comes down to food safety. But who’s responsible for ensuring that quality and safety? For us, that’s Dan Henry, the Manufacturing and Food Safety Supervisor for Just Right by Purina. To shed some light on this incredibly important subject, we asked Dan to tell us not only about how he helps make your dog’s food, but how his boots-on-the-ground team makes it safe. Here’s what he said.
1. “What do you do?” Hard to say; every day is different.
Working in manufacturing and research is very exciting because there are no two days that are the same. I’m responsible for managing the food safety programs established for the products that we manufacture in our R&D environment. Food safety considerations are critical throughout all parts of making pet food, even as a new product is still just an idea on paper. A new ingredient may sound great, but will it work? That’s where folks like Jesse (Product Specialist) come in. I also work with folks like Dan S. (Senior Quality Specialist) to proactively implement food safety processes, work with the FDA on prevention measures, and make continual improvements and solutions. Dan S. does a ton of work with HACCP – how we control biological, chemical, and physical hazards throughout the entire pet food manufacturing process – which is a huge job in itself.
2. We’re incredibly proud to see our hard work in dog food bowls everywhere.
Anyone who’s taken one of my tours of the St. Louis Purina plant can tell that I’m extremely proud to show off our facility to people outside of the company. I love being the first line of defense against food safety risk and being a part of providing safe, nutritious pet food to consumers. I saw the first bag of Just Right by Purina being made, and I love bragging to my friends when I see Purina products on the shelves: “I made that!” Around here, there’s a strong sense of pride in the work we do to make safe, nutritious pet food, and being able to show off the final product.
3. At least dogs love how we smell...
The worst part of the job according to Jesse? Traveling for work can be a pain. No one loves losing out on productive hours spent waiting at the airport, but at least most of people don't have to run directly from a factory to the terminal smelling like dog food from head to toe. "It makes me feel bad for the people sitting around me on the plane!" Jesse said.
4. Don’t try this at home.
I know how hard we work to make safe, nutritious and delicious pet food and I hate when people say that they can make a better product in their own kitchen. Misinformation tends to be one of the biggest battles we fight. We are held to extremely strict food safety standards both internally and by the FDA, so a kitchen-made pet food that lives up the same standards we’re held to probably doesn’t exist.
I think people have a perception that the manufacturing process is dirty and therefore, food safety has to be compromised. So when they walk into a Purina plant, they're absolutely amazed. Not only by how massive the plant is, but also that it's absolutely spotless. People would be shocked at the amount of time we spend making sure that all the checkboxes on our extremely long list are checked (like cleaning, cleaning, cleaning). And not just checked, but performed according to established standards.
“There is no quality if it isn’t safe.” – Dan Smith, Senior Quality Specialist
5. Want just a taste of those standards?
DAN H. on scientifically monitoring each stage of production:
- Our environmental monitoring program uses chemistry and biology to help us determine that our manufacturing spaces, processing equipment, and finished products are safe.
- Our in-house laboratories employ a host of people that perform these activities on a full-time basis.
- We conduct 30,000 quality checks involving ingredients, packaging, receiving, processing, and packing in a typical 24 hour production.
DAN S. on evaluating new ingredients:
- Each new ingredient goes through nine different reviews for things like pet safety, personnel safety, environmental safety, etc. before it can even be used in a trial.
- The HACCP Hazard Assessment for new ingredients is pretty exhaustive. Using several different tools, I conduct a preliminary assessment to identify any known or reasonable foreseeable hazards associated with that ingredient.
- Then each member of the Food Safety Team reviews my assessment based on their areas of expertise.
- Only when there is consensus among this team, the ingredient is approved.
- The last step, is at the factory where the local Food Safety Team again reviews the ingredient, looking at any additional hazards that may be factory imposed, and determines the appropriate preventive controls.
- We have the ability to track an individual ingredient from the time it enters the plant until it ends up at retail (or on your doorstep if you’re ordering Just Right by Purina).
"Food safety is not negotiable. There’s no room for error. It comes before everything else, including cost.” – Dan Henry, Manufacturing & Food Safety Supervisor
6. There’s no such thing as “off the clock” for food safety specialists.
It’s hard to take off the Food Safety Hat when I’m not at work, I’ve found that my job has made it harder to eat at restaurants because I scrutinize every food safety detail to the nth degree. As in, did this restaurant spend hours today cleaning, preparing, testing, retesting, and monitoring all the ingredients in my dinner like I did all day with pet food? Probably not.
7. You could be making your dog’s food unsafe.
One of the questions that we ask a consumer when they communicate with us about an issue is “Where do you store the food?” Many people dump their pet food into a separate container and then discard the bag. Each bag contains a date code that can help Purina identify the product if the customer calls in with questions. If you’re set on using a secondary container, it’s incredibly important to clean it regularly. Not doing so can lead to issues such as insect infestation, mold growth, etc. No matter how safe the food was when it left our plant, there’s a still a risk of contamination if it’s just stored in the garage, isn’t handled appropriately, or just generally isn’t treated how you’d treat your own food.
8. Here’s the deal with the R Word…pet food recalls.
My advice: get your facts from a reliable source like the FDA website. Social media and news outlets tend to embellish or downright falsify the true details of the recall. Also, not all recalls are created equally – recalls are broken down into classes, so it is important to understand the severity of the recall before assuming that the company is at fault. Many times, a recall is more of a precaution that the company voluntarily initiates to ensure that a potential hazard never even reaches the customer. Purina actually performs internal-only mock recalls on a regular basis to make sure we can efficiently identify and remove issues before they ever go out the door to you. More often than you’d think, recalls are about acting proactively, rather than reactively.
Social media likes to villainize the “Big Guy” and promote the “Little Guy” as somehow being more caring, which just isn’t true. "I personally read every customer comment relating to food safety,” Dan S. said. Smaller companies may tend to take more risks because they have the flexibility to do, so don’t rule out bigger companies when picking the right dog food for your dog. There is a greater amount of research, established processes, and vetting done by the “Big Guy” to make sure that we get it right. The result is better, safer pet food.
“Anything less than perfection is failure with food safety.” – Jesse Siemen, Product Specialist
9. We make safe pet food for your dog’s health…which helps protect your kids’ health too.
We put a high amount of effort into food safety, not only to protect pets, but to equally protect pet owner’s family. The main difference between animal feed and pet food is that pet food comes into the home. The FDA recognizes this and therefore we have a much higher level of scrutiny. Did you know that the standards for safety and quality dog food are equal to, or in some cases, surpass those of the human food industry?
As a product specialist, Jesse is responsible for establishing product specifications for Just Right’s personalized blends in order to provide safe, stable foods to our consumers. Even though the specifications aren’t always the easiest or most efficient targets to meet, they’re established without compromise. We don’t base decisions about preventive control on how hard it is to do. Anything less than perfection is failure with food safety.
Questions about food safety and manufacturing at Just Right by Purina? Ask away in the comments below or contact us!