Pet Food Recall: Merrick, Nature’s Variety

photo credit: Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH


A tale of 2 pet food recalls—one typical and one that shows how it should be done.  First, the typical recall, as preformed by Merrick for their Beef Filet Squares Dog Treats.  During testing, the FDA “detected a positive finding for Salmonella. (Find info. about Salmonella below.) A follow-up inspection found deficiencies in the packaging and manufacturing processes.”  Merrick issued a press release about the recall on a Friday.  (Friday night press releases happened all the time during the huge melamine contamination recalls.  Friday nights were late nights for me during that time because recalls would be issued in the middle of the night on Fridays so the stories would get minimal coverage.  It’s a tradition in business and government.) There is no sign Merrick has done anything to better insure the safety of their product and there’s no word on how to get your money back.  Swell.

The recalled product is:

  • Beef Filet Squares Dog Treats—Item # 60016 / Lot Code “9323 best buy 111911” in 10 ounce green, red & tan resealable plastic bag

Setting a good example

Moving on to the atypical recall as performed by Nature’s Variety.  Results from their own testing done by an outside facility showed possible salmonella contamination. (Find info. about Salmonella below.) Nature’s Variety announced the recall on a Thursday and when they expanded the recall, they announced it on a Monday, insuring maximum news coverage.  Nature’s Variety has instituted new safety measures using High Pressure Pasteurization and practices “a test and hold protocol to ensure that all High Pressure Pasteurized Raw Frozen Diets test negative for harmful bacteria before being released for sale.”  The expanded recall was done to remove any product made before the new safety measures were in place.  To get a refund or replacement, bring your receipt or empty package in a sealed bag to your local retailer.

A company taking responsibility for the safety of its product and providing customer service???  What a concept!  Are you paying attention Merrick?

The recall includes the following products with a “Best If Used By” date of 10/29/10 or 11/9/10:

  1. UPC#7 69949 60131 9 – Chicken Formula 0.75 lb trial sized medallions
  2. UPC#7 69949 60130 2 – Chicken Formula 3 lb medallions
  3. UPC#7 69949 60120 3 – Chicken Formula 6 lb patties
  4. UPC#7 69949 60121 0 – Chicken Formula 2 lb single chubs

The products included in the expanded recall are any Chicken Formula or Organic Chicken Formula Raw Frozen Diet with a “Best If Used By” date on or before 2/5/11, including:

  1. UPC#7 69949 60131 9 – Chicken Formula 0.75 lb trial sized medallions
  2. UPC#7 69949 60130 2 – Chicken Formula 3 lb medallions
  3. UPC#7 69949 60120 3 – Chicken Formula 6 lb patties
  4. UPC#7 69949 60121 0 – Chicken Formula 2 lb single chubs
  5. UPC#7 69949 50121 3 – Chicken Formula 12 lb case of chubs
  6. UPC#7 69949 60137 1 – Organic Chicken Formula 3 lb medallions
  7. UPC#7 69949 60127 2 – Organic Chicken Formula 6 lb patties

What you need to know about Salmonella

Salmonella can cause serious illness in cats and dogs and there can be cross-contamination to humans causing serious illness in humans.

12 Replies to “Pet Food Recall: Merrick, Nature’s Variety”

  1. Hi, my name is Ken Wilks and I work for Merrick. I can assure you the voluntary recall of 72 cases of Beef Filet squares was not announced on a Friday to somehow benefit from the weekend as suggested in the article. We simply announced on the earliest possible date in an effort to retrieve the product as quickly as possible.

    Though unintentional I am sure, the article appears to link Merrick to the industry wide pet food recall. For the record, Merrick was not part of the industry wide recall due to our commitment of making all of our own cans, dry food and treats.

    Finally, comparing Merrick’s recall to the one reported on at Nature’s Variety seems to me to be comparing apples to oranges. For the record, of the 72 cases of Beef Filet Squares we recalled at Merrick, so far we have obtained 67 cases back and all tested NEGATIVE for salmonella. While I am unsure of the quantity of cases allegedly recalled by Nature’s Variety, it seems to me that comparing or linking events at Merrick to another manufacturer in the manner done in the article could be viewed as an attempt to make one manufacturer look better at the expense of another.

    Frankly, Merrick’s voluntary recall of 72 cases of product should be evaluated as a stand alone event. Merrick has been the leading manufacturer of natural body part treats for decades in the pet specialty channel. We take pride in our USA made products, and conduct our business in the most ethical manner possible.

  2. Hi Ruth Ann,

    All Merrick treats including the sausage you asked about are “OK”. The only product Merrick voluntarily recalled was the Beef Filet Sqaure treat on one date of manufacture for 72 cases, 67 of which we have received back so far with a negative result when tested for salmonella.

    All Merrick products have a 100% satisfaction guarantee, so that if for any reason you wish to return any Merrick product to where you purchased it, with or wihtout a reciept, the product will be replaced or refunded.

  3. We should really be aware of what we are buying for our dogs. Must be sure especially on the quality and safety for our beloved pets.

  4. This article does indeed seem jaundiced and slanted against Merrick’s. Rather than jump to conclusions without full facts, the writer should attempt to practice actual journalism and research things fully. As an aside — I have fed my dogs Merrick’s now for over two years and my dog with the worst allergies has had all of them disappear since I changed their diet to Merrick’s. Nature’s Variety is a great food, but they are so expensive, most people can’t afford it, unless you are a rich person with small dogs (I have four large rescued dogs). Rather than take ill-researched pot-shots at a good AMERICAN company that doesn’t use suspect ingredients like Chinese wheat gluten in their foods, this writer should try practicing a little solid journalisme for a change (I am a former journalism teacher, by the way).

  5. Linda–this post is jaundiced. I am quite tired of pet food companies issuing “dump and run” press releases late on Fridays so the information gets lost in the news cycle. As a former journalism teacher, I’m sure you are aware of this tactic and the concept of news cycles.

    This post is not slanted. I suggest you read the post more closely. There are no “ill-researched pot-shots”

    Natural Balance is also an American company, so I’m not sure what your point is there.

    This post is about salmonella contamination and has nothing to do with the Chinese wheat gluten tainted with melamine. I doubt any pet food company is sourcing wheat gluten from China anymore.

    Anyone who reads my blog will know I am not a rich person with small dogs, as I regularly write post on DIY projects and thrifty ideas.

    I would also like to direct your attention to a subsequent post concerning Merrick, in which I wrote about the FDA’s harsh criticism of Merrick’s handling of this specific recall. The FDA’s warning included these specific issues:

    “Your firm delayed your public communication to alert consumers who may have the recalled product in their possession until after FDA issued an FDA Health Alert on January 14, 2010.”

    “Your recall communications to distributors, retailers, and consumers only included case lot coding 9323, which was different from the lot coding on some of the individual bags. Due to a labeling error, some of the affected bags were coded with the lot code 9333.”

    “Your recall letter did not identify the hazard involved. Your letter to wholesale and retail consignees indicated the product was recalled because it “may not have been processed properly.” Recalls can be less effective if the recall communication does not concisely explain the reason for recall and the hazard involved.”

  6. Sarah,

    Your reply is confusing. In your slam, you cite “Nature’s Variety” as the poster child for a “good” recall (salmonella or any recall).

    Then, in your reply to me, you mention “Natural Balance” — did you mean Dick Van Patten’s “Natural Balance,” or some other company – ? Very confusing.

    Yes, Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance is an American company. They use very good ingredients in their foods; the only reason I don’t feed them, even though their pricing is moderate, is that their fish meal does have ethoxyquin (as you hopefully know, ethoxyquin is usually present via the fish meal supplier so it does not have to be listed as an ingredient) as do most foods.

    Merrick’s and Blue Buffalo — the two I happen to feed; there are others — do not use ethoxyquin to preserve their fish meal (the only way you know for sure, is to contact the mfrs. and ask them what their suppliers use to preserve any fish meals from any type of fish). Merrick’s and Blue Buffalo products also do not contain any imported ingredients (we’re not talking just Chinese wheat gluten — any imported ingredients) — they are all USA-sourced. That is, in and of itself, not a guarantee of quality, but the odds are better.

    Natural Balance, you may recall, did have some of its products recalled in the wake of the Chinese wheat gluten recall, but instituted additional quality control measures (my second career has been that of a quality engineer, by the way). Without getting into specifics of whatever process control techniques they may be using (SPC — statistical process control, etc.), that is a good step, but they apparently still use imported ingredients.

    Incidentally, as a QE, I have seen companies in various industries jump to solutions when problems surface, and most of the solutions rest upon hastily-applied inspection processes late in the manufacturing process. There should indeed be an immediate “containment” action implemented to “stop the bleeding,” but a true long-term countermeasure usually takes some time to research for root cause and to develop a system (the more upstream applied in the process, the better).

    So, to criticize Merrick’s for NOT hurriedly publishing a “band-aid” fix masquerading as a long-term countermeasure, is specious. “Test and hold” after the fact is fine, but do they have a rational sampling plan? What SPC do they do, or other methods? How will they address the root cause, once they find it? Or will they just rely on EOL (end of line) inspection? 100% final inspection is very expensive, and statistically, only 85% accurate, at best.

    Nature’s Variety, as far as I know, is a different company from “Natural Balance.” Stellar ingredients, very high quality — and very high prices. I tried feeding “Instinct” for my four large ones and just couldn’t afford it, and I make a good salary. Congrats to you if you can (or is it Natural Balance that you feed?).

    Well, you know, Martha Stewart has made a nice living about writing about DIY and thrifty ideas, and she’s not exactly a poor person. I do not begrudge either her regularly writing about these topics, nor her wealth — nor yours, if you have it and have earned it honestly. In fact, many rich people get that way from being thrifty. What does that have to do with anything? I was not criticizing you in that way — why the defensiveness?

    You cite one instance of FDA criticism of Merrick’s handling of the recall, yet you don’t bother to cite that this is the ONLY recall in their history. This omission potentially gives the reader a jaundiced impression. One instance does not constitute a pattern or a trend. Additionally, the number of products you list from Nature’s Variety’s recall is quite larger than the couple items from Merrick’s (which have tested all negative, so far, per Mr. Wilks).

    Finally, your statement that Merrick’s customers were not given “any word on how to get their money back” is apparently contradicted by Mr. Wilks’s reminder that all Merrick’s products can be returned for a full refund, even without a receipt, at any time.

    And it sounds like there is conflicting info either way — Ken Wilks provides additional information absent from your slam, which made it appear further that you omitted information. Either that, or would you claim that he is not telling the truth – ?

    I make no claim to being completely unbiased when it comes to recommending both Merrick’s and Blue Buffalo, but I have researched the ingredients via objective sources and they are the ones I selected for what I term a “higher middle range” price. I can’t afford the Nature’s Variety, Inova, etc., price range.

    Anecdotal evidence (notice I did not cite a rational sampling or control charts) with my four dogs, one of which has profound allergies and two others with tender stomachs, suggests that these foods have revitalized their lives.

    Other good moderately-priced foods, like DVP’s Natural Balance, Tractor Supply’s 4Health brand (made by Diamond), Diamond’s Taste of the Wild, Purina’s Exclusive, etc. have similarly high-quality ingredients, but still have the hidden ethoxyquin in their fish meal. I elected to avoid those, based on my research on ethoxyquin.

    Well, speaking of, I have bigger fish to fry than continue to review this instance of bias, and I’m sure you do, too, so Godspeed and good luck.

  7. Sarah, one other thing — today, August 24, when I visited both the Merrick’s website and Nature’s Variety website, I noticed that Merrick’s had updates on their recall prominently displayed when you first visit the site.

    Nature’s Variety, OTOH, had nothing on any recall, anywhere I could find on their site.

    I find that fact very interesting. Any comment on that?

    Also, I was in error one on item — this is Merrick’s second recall. The first one was for a single product, the same beef filet squares. I noticed that they do not offer this product anymore.

    There is obviously something peculiar to this individual product that does not seem to apply to the others, so they exercised the wise choice and pulled it completely. I would hope that they are investigating for the root cause.


  8. Sarah, I did find the recall information on Nature’s Variety’s site. I just had to hunt for it longer. I apologize for that error.

  9. If any of my post ever show up I would like to change my glowing review of Nature’s Variety. After seeing they had biscuts on a site I shop at I went digging for info, I do that a lot when shopping for my dogs, and found that Nature’s Variety canned and frozen pet food are manufactured by Menu foods. Now although their dry foods are made by Pied Piper Pet Foods and they have never been involved in any recall there is no way I will ever trust this company again. Don’t put this poison in your pets body.

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