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Important lessons from a recall of “high-quality” pet food

A U.S. pet food manufacturer that voluntarily recalled one of its products because of potentially dangerous mold contamination is now being sued for deceptively marketing the pet food as “high quality” and “nutritious” despite its contamination.

Midwestern Pet Foods Inc. last month announced a voluntary recall of its Sportsmix-brand dry pet food due to contamination with aflatoxin, a substance produced by the mold Aspergillus flavus. The announcement came after The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was alerted to reports of at least 28 dog fatalities and eight dog illnesses linked to the product.

Lawyers have since filed a class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court Indiana against Midwestern on behalf of Eastman, GA resident Tammy Johnson, who claims her seven dogs became ill after eating Sportsmix. Other pet owners say they will file similar suits.

It’s important to note that Midwestern acted responsibly and conducted a “by-the-book” recall of its pet foods containing corn, manufactured in the company’s Oklahoma plant with an expiration date on or before July 9, 2022. It dutifully expanded its recall at the direction of the FDA. Despite those facts, however, it now faces expensive litigation costs and possible liability for millions of dollars in damages.

Midwestern’s situation is somewhat similar to Chipotle’s several years ago when the quick-service restaurant chain’s reputation was significantly damaged after its products were linked to a series of highly publicized foodborne illnesses. Like Chipotle, Midwestern claims its products are better, fresher and more nutritious than its competitors. But when quality control becomes an issue, the penalties are magnified exponentially.

How “quality-conscious” manufacturers can stay ahead of the curve

More and more, companies today are seeking to differentiate themselves in marketplaces that are increasingly crowded and competitive. But that differentiation also draws higher scrutiny and bigger consequences when products are recalled.

As FDA continues to investigate the Midwestern case, it’s essential that manufacturers and retailers – especially those that have positioned their products as being superior – review their recall plans and understand their heightened responsibilities in this age of instantaneous communication and social media hyperbole.

At the same time, all companies must pay attention to the basics. FDA advises retailers not to sell or donate any pet food products that may be even remotely connected to a recall. Retailers should also contact consumers, in a timely manner, who have purchased recalled products.

Recalls are now an inevitable part of manufacturing and selling food, drugs and consumer products. When a recall or investigation of your product does occur, you’ll need to be ready to manage it quickly and effectively enough to satisfy regulators, protect consumers, and avoid the painful cost of litigation.

To learn more about the rise and fall of recall trends and to acquire knowledge about how to plan for one, register for our upcoming webinar on February 17, at 2pm EST.

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