We’re a nation of pet lovers.
The Pet Food Manufacturer’s Association (PFMA)1 annual pet population survey shows around 41% of UK households own a pet. Dogs, unsurprisingly, are the most common, with cats coming in second and rabbits hopping into third place.
We all know owning a pet has many positive health benefits. Our pets can make us physically and mentally healthier and many pet owners have adopted ‘pet parenting’ behaviours, mimicking traditional parent-child relationships.
It’s therefore no surprise pet parents want only the best for their fur babies. Growing concern over the contents of commercial pet foods, along with the expanding social lives of dogs, has renewed interest in quality dehydrated pet treats. Dehydrated pet foods have many of the benefits of fresh/frozen raw food, but in an easier way for people to manage.
Pet owners also want honest food safety information surrounding the sourcing, production and storage of commercially dehydrated pet treats. And rightly so. Turning fresh meat, fruit or vegetables into tasty pet treats is serious business. It’s also big business with UK pet owners spending more than £2.7billion each year on pet food alone.
Pet owners place a lot of trust in pet food manufacturers to produce high quality, nutritious, palatable and safe pet foods.
Like human food, the manufacture of pet food is highly regulated. The Food Standards Agency2 is responsible for the manufacture of feed for non-food producing animals. This includes pets.
However, if you are selling into the EU, there’s more than fifty pieces of legislation governing its manufacture. You can view them all on the European Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (FEDIAF) website.3
Legislation is under frequent review to adapt to scientific and technological developments. Areas covered include:
In the UK, the PFMA4 has this to say about direct legislation relating to the manufacture of pet food:
‘All foods for animals are governed by the same legislation and, as farm animals form part of the human food chain, the laws are necessarily stringent. Furthermore, as pet food is manufactured and distributed in the same way as human food, some legislation governing human food is equally applicable to pet food.’
There’s also indirect protection:
‘Pet food enjoys the additional legal protection of the law which was designed to safeguard raw materials destined for the human food chain, from which the pet food industry also sources its raw materials. Examples of this include the laws restricting the residue levels of veterinary substances in meat and those of pesticides in cereal products. In addition, there is specific legislation governing pet food.’
PFMA have also published a set of guidelines.5 While they’re not a substitute for legislation, they give a great overview of the UK pet food industry.
Alongside legislation, PFMA guidelines5 state:
The guidelines also advise on vehicle hygiene:
When transporting ABPs or any ABP derived products, the following rules apply:
A great way to have a healthy dog is to introduce fresh fruit and vegetables into their diet. An easy way to do this is via dehydrated pet treats. While fresh fruit and veggies can be added to an animal’s diet alone, it’s more common in commercially prepared pet treats for the fruit and veggies to be incorporated into a meat treat. And similar to a fussy child, a fussy dog won’t even know there’s extra goodness in the food.
A dog’s diet should ideally contain at least 20% vegetables. Vegetables that are especially good for dogs include:
All pet food manufacturers must abide by HACCP6 principles. Even when producing food in domestic premises, they must still put in place a feed safety management system.
Originally developed by NASA and a group of food safety specialists in the ‘60s, Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) is an internationally recognised food safety and risk assessment plan. The plan outlines seven key principles in food safety:
To lower meat contamination, meat plants are obliged to apply and sustain hygiene procedures based on Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles for meat plants.7
In October, 2018 a new edition of the FEDIAF Code of Good Labelling Practice for Pet Food8 was published. It’s meant to be used as a practical guide to pet food labelling and should be read alongside the relevant EU legislation.
According to Law Print & Packaging,9 a pet food label must contains certain key pieces of information including:
• Name and product description
• Composition (ingredients list)
• Analytical constituents (information about nutrient levels)
• Best before date and batch code
• Producer or distributor name (and how to contact them for further information)
• Feeding instructions (how to use the product)
• Weight and/or quantity
These mandatory labelling particulars must be given in their entirety in a prominent place on the packaging.
They must be:
Complementary pet foods are those other than the pet’s main food source. In other words, treats, snacks and rewards. And while nobody will argue cats are deserving of treats and tasty snacks, let’s face it, when we think of snacks, training and rewards, we’re thinking dogs.
The use of treats to reward dogs during training or when out and about is nothing new. However, with the upsurge in recent years of pet-centric people and families, along with a more focused concern about the contents of pet food, the ability of commercially produced dehydrated pet treats to become a true market force has never been more pronounced.
And not only that, dogs in the 21st century are highly social creatures within the community. These days, walking your dog is an expectation of pet parents and families. If you can’t walk your own, you hire someone to do it for you. Pet parks, pet beaches, doggy day care, pet holidays, the list is endless.
And what’s one thing these activities have in common?
The need for a portable, healthy, nutritious and delicious pet treats to keep dogs well behaved and well fed while out and about.
Cheap and nasty dog biscuits as a treat? The 21st century pooch says a firm no thank you.
Just like foods produced for human consumption, pet foods have a similar shelf life. When safely stored in a vacuum-sealed package in a cool, dark spot, dehydrated pet treats can expect to have a shelf life of up to 2 years. If the package shows any condensation or other signs of moisture, if it looks unusual or smells funny, it’s likely to have spoiled. And if it’s mouldy, throw it in the bin.
Water activity (aw) is a measure of available water in food. That’s not as simple as how much water is in the food though, as some water is bound to other ingredients – like sugar or salt – and isn’t available. In the context of dehydration, this is important as it is the available water10 that microorganisms will use to facilitate growth.
When too much water is available, microorganisms can grow. Pure water has aw = 1.00 and raw meat has aw = 0.99. For pet treats, following advice for dried meats is a good idea. Dried meats commercially produced in the UK are legally required to be dried to a water activity level of less than 0.85. It’s a good idea to aim a bit lower for pet treats. For fruits aim for aw = <0.85 to 0.60 and vegetable-based pet treats around aw = <0.60.
There’s a few basic principles to adhere to in any environment where meat and food products are being prepared. These include:
The highest hygiene standards should be maintained every step of the way.
Best practice is to clean it between every batch. The trays in our dehydrators are dishwasher safe and the insides of the dehydrator should be cleaned using a cloth and warm soapy water (being careful not to splash water onto the electrical parts). We recommend using a food-safe sanitiser spray to eliminate microbial growth.
Any cleaning chemicals should be appropriately stored. Staff should be trained how to use cleaning chemicals safely, so as not to cause accidents or contaminate foods.
It’s also important to ensure equipment is thoroughly dried after cleaning to prevent Listeria contamination.
As well as daily cleaning, including throughout the day, regular cleaning and sanitising should be scheduled for things like cool rooms and drains. It’s also a good idea to regularly clean shelving in chillers, door handles, door seals, switches.
All equipment used for monitoring should be regularly checked and calibrated to ensure accuracy. This includes:
If you’ve any questions about cleaning your commercial dehydrator, recommended settings, or other aspects to ensure a safe final product, let us know. We’re here to help guide you to producing pet treats and other dehydrated foods that are delicious and safe.