Pet Food Processing Exchange will be held Oct. 7 to 8 in Kansas City, Mo.

KANSAS CITY, MO. — Food safety is as much of a concern for pet food manufacturers as it is for manufacturers of human food. Biological, chemical and physical hazards can impact a pet food processing operation and threaten the safety of the food that will ultimately be fed to our four-legged family members.

No one understands these concerns better than Billie Johnson, Ph.D., food safety and regulatory compliance manager for BHJ North America. Johnson has spent her career overseeing food safety programs and has extensive knowledge in recall processes, internal auditing, GFSI certified audits, HACCP/PC development, and maintenance of supplier approval programs.

Billie Johnson, Ph.D., food safety and regulatory compliance manager for BHJ North America

Billie Johnson, Ph.D., food safety and regulatory compliance manager for BHJ North America.

| Photo courtesy of Billie Johnson

Pet Food Processing magazine and parent company Sosland Publishing will host the inaugural Pet Food Processing Exchange Oct. 7 to 8 in Kansas City, where subject matter experts from the fields of animal nutrition, data analysis, supply chain logistics, legal, design, automation and more will share their knowledge of the formulation, production and safety of pet food on-stage.

On Oct. 8, Johnson will share her insights during a session titled, “Recall Protection and Prevention: Keeping Pets and Pet Food Safe.” Speaking with Pet Food Processing magazine, Johnson discussed the importance of food safety in the pet food and treat industry, and how things have changed through the years.

Pet Food Processing: How have food safety practices in pet food and treat operations evolved over the past five to 10 years?  

Johnson: In the last 10 years, pet food and treats, and suppliers to the pet food manufacturers, have become much more aware of the food safety practices required and regulations therein. The evolution has included an intensity around understanding the requirements and implementing more intense inspection processes. The system may have been in place 10 years ago, but it was a matter of making the system more progressive with verification and validation measures in place.

Also, globalization of pet food manufacturing has also pushed for implementation of international standards. Ten years ago, the pet food industry may have been working toward becoming GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) certified or having just achieved the certification. Ten years later, most pet food facilities — large, medium and small — have implemented the GFSI standards. These standards have moved to new versions over the years (BRC is at version 9, and SQF will unveil version 10 in 2025) which have included mandates for food safety practices that we did not see 10 years ago. The identification of new food safety risks and the emergence of other industry issues have caused the development of additional requirements.

PFP: What food safety issues should be top of mind for pet food processors? 

Johnson: Unfortunately, Salmonella is still an issue to be concerned with in the pet food industry. The interaction between pets and humans emphasizes the importance of thoroughly understanding pet food as a means for transmitting pathogens to humans. Foreign material issues are also a top concern for pet food processors. Given the difficulty noted in finding foreign materials, this can be quite an issue in the manufacturing environment. Also, mycotoxins associated with grain materials are still a concern if monitoring processes are not properly maintained. 

Overall, pet food manufacturing is dependent upon the three “Ps”: people, plant and processes. If the people working for the facility have not been properly trained, the plant is not maintained properly, or the process for inspection or testing fails, the food safety risk jumps considerably.

PFP: How can inspections and audits help protect plants from food safety risks? 

Johnson: Plant inspections are pivotal to finding areas for improvement and preventing food safety concerns. Customer, regulatory and third party GFSI audits help pinpoint areas of concern and allow the facility to make changes in their processes. Hygiene standards, quality control and manufacturing practices are important programs used to ensure pet food safety and quality. Having an ability to conduct sanitation or GMP audits, glass and brittle plastic audits, and mock recalls helps the plant understand if a food safety risk exists. Most people don’t consider a “mock recall” to be an inspection process, but it can be in that we are monitoring the process around inventory control and traceback.

PFP: What are some similarities and differences in pet food and human food manufacturing facilities with regard to food safety concerns? 

Johnson: Any of the risks noted above can be an issue at a human food manufacturing site. With the rise of raw pet diets, Salmonella and Listeria concerns have risen in severity for human health risks, much like in the human food realm. For this reason, pet food and human food often are regulated and audited against the same standards.

Attendees of Pet Food Processing Exchange can learn more about pet food safety during Johnson’s presentation during the event. Learn more and register for Pet Food Processing Exchange here.