Recall of the Month: Steve’s Real Food Potentially Real Dangerous

Recently, raw pet food has become more popular as we humans seek to feed our furry friends what we perceive to be more “natural” products.

However, raw pet food companies tend to face challenges with the FDA, which may be warranted. Raw pet food company Steve’s Real Food recently faced a recall due to contamination in September.

Before we get into the recall details, here’s a little bit of history on the company:

On the market since 1998, Steve’s Real Food promises adoring pet owners “raw meat food made with all natural, wholesome ingredients.” Founder Steve Brown spent time in traditional pet food manufacturing plants and noted his dog’s refusal to eat warm kibble fresh from the production line. This prompted him to begin extensive research on pet nutrition, and he ultimately launched the first commercial raw diet for pets, Steve’s Real Food.

Brown was considered a pioneer in the raw pet food industry and reportedly spent over four years perfecting the formula. Steve’s Real Food was purchased by current owner Nicole Lindsley in 2010.

Steve’s Real Food Recall

Fast forward a few years, and Steve’s Real Food has faced a handful of suspected Salmonella and L. mono contamination scares over the years, most recently on Sept. 7.

At that time, the raw food company pulled one lot each of Steve’s Real Food Turducken Recipe dog food in five-pound bags, as well as Quest Beef Diet cat food and Quest Emu Diet cat food, both in two-pound bags. The frozen food is sold in boutique pet shops nationwide.

In their Sept. 7 notice, the FDA stated that “this recall is being initiated after the firm was notified by the Washington Department of Agriculture when a sample was collected and tested positive for Salmonella and/or L. mono. The firm did conduct their own test, which resulted in a negative result for both Salmonella and L. mono.”

To date, no pet or human illnesses caused by Steve's Real Food products have been reported. However, the FDA noted that “because of their commitment to overall safety and quality, Steve’s Real Food is conducting a voluntary recall of this product.”

On their website, Steve’s Raw Foods takes a strong defensive stand, claiming that “raw advocates agree that the FDA has recently done some unfairly biased targeting of raw pet foods, in their attempt to prove that raw pet food is not safe. Despite this, the number of recalls for kibble companies far exceed what scrutinized focus on the tiny raw industry has produced. In the summer of 2015, the FDA tested every raw food on the market for E. Coli, Salmonella, and Listeria. It is the position of Steve’s Real Food that this wass (sic.) unnecessary, ineffective, and unfairly targeted the raw food industry, as many kibble companies have been forced to recall pet food for these contaminants due to actual illness outbreaks (which we have never had), but they were not being targeted in this testing. We believe that the best way to maintain our public image should a recall take place is through education and increasing public understanding of the real risks.”

Critics of the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), note that the act altered the role of the FDA from a reactive organization tasked with investigating reported food-borne illnesses and removing the infected products from the marketplace, to one that proactively tests food for bacteria and then requires recalls when pathogens are found. These same critics believe the final-stage testing overlooks the true source of the bacteria, the suppliers of the raw material. Additionally, some believe the FSMA testing process is overly sensitive, which leads to positive test results even when only a minute amount of bacterial contamination is discovered.

The Steve's Real Foods website argues that the occurrence of salmonella in raw meat is well known, but far less impactful to pets than consumers have been led to believe. Steve’s Real Food goes on to state that “several raw pet food manufactures have implemented High Pressure Pasteurization to remove all pathogens. We have decided to not use this since studies show that it removes good bacteria, (probiotics) and digestive enzymes. We are looking into incorporating a naturally occurring organic compound that shows a 95% reduction in salmonella. Although it is not 100% effective we still believe maintaining the nutritional integrity of the food is most important.”

Moving Forward

It will be important for Steve’s Real Foods to continue to earn trust with consumers by maintaining their high quality standards and being transparent with customers. Steve’s should share any evidence of their move towards higher standards, for example, whether they are implementing more restrictions on suppliers or adding any internal testing procedures to help ensure quality for consumers. Frequent, periodic blog posts about any processes or about their commitment to quality could also help bolster their image with consumers. Foodborne illnesses can happen to food companies with even the most rigorous standards, but preparation and proactive work can be key in helping to address customer concerns and move forward.

Apron has deep experience in food recall and crisis management. Want to prepare your brand? We’re ready to help. Contact Apron’s food practice lead, Jenny Gregorcyk, at jenny@apronfoodpr.com.