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Food Safety - the First Priority for Pet Food Manufacturers
Making safe and nutritious pet foods relies on the same principles
as human foods - clean facilities, quality ingredients and appropriate
cooking and storage.
Pet foods that are sealed into cans, trays or foil sachets and
processed using high temperatures, do not require additional
additives to preserve the food.
Dry pet foods are usually heat processed and dried and these will
often include either a natural or man-made 'antioxidant'. These are
added to stop the fats in the food interacting with the air and
becoming 'rancid', which spoils the food.
Some, but not all, 'chilled' (refrigerated) pet foods may include
food preservatives such as sulphur dioxide (sulphites) during
manufacture to reduce bacterial spoilage and when added, the Australian
Standard for the manufacture and marketing of pet food (AS5812)
requires the addition to be advised on the label.
Production facilities, raw materials, processing and preservatives
Making nutritious and safe pet foods involves following the same
principles that we adopt in preparing food safely in our own kitchens.
Good food relies on quality, fresh ingredients, hygienic processing and
appropriate storage of food throughout the production process. Where food
additives are used, these are included for a reason - often food safety
or nutritional integrity, such as the inclusion of additional vitamins
Processing pet foods to reduce the risk of spoilage and to extend shelf
life is a very important part of making good quality, safe pet foods.
Most prepared pet foods, including: cans, trays or sachets, dry foods and
'pet rolls' achieve this primarily by undergoing various forms of cooking
and/or drying to greatly reduce the risk of microbial contamination and
enable the finished product to have an extended shelf life.
Pet foods that are subjected to high temperature processing and then
packed into airtight packaging, such as cans and foil sachets are
commercially sterile, meaning that there are no live bacteria present.
These types of foods usually have a long "shelf life" or 'best before"
date and do not require additional preservatives to be added during
It is important that retailers and pet owners store all pet foods
correctly to avoid spoilage and to feed the pet food within the "shelf
life" or stated "best before" date on the packaging.
Stopping fats from going rancid
In making dry pet foods, it is important to prevent fats turning rancid
(which occurs when the fats react with oxygen in the air), which can
cause bad odours and resulting rejection by the pet. Stabilising the fats
included in the food to prevent excessive oxidation is usually achieved
by the inclusion of "antioxidants" that can be combinations of naturally
occurring herbs, fruit extracts and vitamins or more commonly, highly
effective man made additives.
Preventing moulds and yeast
Moulds can proliferate under certain environmental conditions and are
recognised to present a possible risk to pet health, so ingredients may
be included in dry pet foods to prevent mould growth. An example of such
additives are sorbates, which are used in a variety of processed foods
and beverages for human consumption as well as some dry pet foods to
inhibit the growth of moulds and yeast, reducing the risk of food
contamination and pet illness.
Limiting bacterial growth
Preventing microbial growth and spoilage in pet foods is very important
and starts with maintaining a clean manufacturing environment and the
choice, storage, testing and handling of good quality raw materials,
particularly meat, fish and poultry. Cleanliness and good manufacturing
procedures are important in minimising bacterial contamination and
Heat processing of commercial prepared pet foods is a further critical
element in suppressing microbe growth. The Australian Standard for the
manufacturing and marketing of pet food (AS5812) provides guidance in
regards to appropriate management of raw materials, environmental
cleanliness and processing of pet foods. Sulphur dioxide (SO2) is a
food additive that is approved for use in a variety of human foods and
some alcoholic beverages that is highly effective at suppressing the
growth of certain types of potentially harmful bacteria and it is usually
added as a salt or "sulphite" ( such as potassium sulphite) that then
releases SO2 into the food over time.
In Australian pet foods, sulphites are not added during the production of
canned, trays, sachets, dry pet foods and many refrigerated (chilled) pet
foods, as many of these, such as 'dog roll' style products have also
undergone a cooking process.
The major pet food type where sulphites are more commonly included are in
some, but not all, uncooked, refrigerated pet foods. Where sulphites are
included during the manufacturing process, the Australian Standard
requires that this be declared on the label (see next section). While
sulphites are recognised to be effective preservatives, they also have
the potential to substantially reduce the amount of an important vitamin,
thiamine (Vitamin B1), in pet food.
Thiamine is very important to the health of dogs and particularly cats,
which have a substantially greater need for this vitamin. If
sulphite-based preservatives are used in pet food production, care needs
to be taken by the pet food producer to ensure that there is sufficient
thiamine included in the pet food for the duration of the shelf life of
the product. PFIAA member companies that are producing pet foods
understand the importance of thiamine in pet nutrition. These companies
recognise that it is important to limit the amount of sulphite added and
to ensure sufficient thiamine in their recipes to offset the adverse
impact of preservatives or heat processing on thiamine availability in
the finished pet foods.
Research undertaken in Queensland over recent years funded by the federal
government in conjunction with industry has provided further valuable
information about the extent of thiamine depletion in the presence of SO2
in game meat and this research report is available to assist fresh pet
food producers using game meat to include sufficient supplemental
thiamine to meet the pet's needs for the duration of the food's shelf
Labelling and the Australian Standard
The Australian Standard for the manufacturing and marketing of pet food
(AS5812) includes a requirement (section 3.1.10) that where sulphites
preservatives have been used in producing foods for pets, the name or the
Food Standards (FSANZ) code number for SO2 or sulphite shall be
included on the label and that "sufficient thiamine will be present
throughout the shelf life of a pet food product to ensure that the
product is not deficient in thiamine according to AAFCO Official
Over recent years there have been a number of research initiatives funded
by both government and private industry seeking to develop alternative
food preservatives to sulphites for use in pet foods and human foods.
Pet food companies who are members of the Pet Food Industry
Association of Australia (PFIAA) provide a wide range of products and
flavours to satisfy the needs and preferences of pets and their owners.
These pet food companies include carefully selected ingredients and
highly controlled processing to provide foods that are nutritious, safe
and palatable to all pets whatever their tastes.
This article is for general information only
This information is provided by the PFIAA as general information only.
This article has been developed using information from 3rd party public
domain information that PFIAA believes to be accurate and authoritative.
For advice and more specific information concerning treatment and feeding
of your individual pet, we recommend that you seek the advice of your