Protecting our pets and your business from aflatoxins


Knowledge of petfood raw materials food safety hazards including source, severity of effect and likelihood of occurrence i.e., where they occur, what they do to us and the chance / probability of happening, are key inputs into effective food safety management systems based on HACCP. It is important therefore that we understand the biological, chemical, and physical hazards associated in the raw materials we use. This includes the type of chemical hazard (toxin) of fungal origin known as aflatoxin.

Aflatoxins in petfood – Key facts

Some key facts about aflatoxins in petfood include:

What are aflatoxins?

Naturally occurring by-products of different Aspergillus fungi species.

What problems do they cause in pets?

Aflatoxins are one of the most powerful natural toxins. Toxic to both cats and dogs, in dogs they can cause many different illnesses through to death, depending on how much is consumed.

Which petfood raw materials can be contaminated?

Aflatoxins are associated with many cereals including maize, wheat, rice, and sorghum and oilseeds like soya and sunflower. There are also found foods like nuts, dried figs and milk from animals eating aflatoxin contaminated feed.

Where are they found?

Aflatoxins are ubiquitous, depending on optimal growing conditions and can occur anywhere in the supply chain (field and storage). Growth depends on many factors including:

  • stress during growing
  • insect damage
  • high humidity.

What is the effect of processing?

Aflatoxin is relatively stable and levels aflatoxin might NOT be significantly during raw material or petfood manufacture.

What is the incidence of aflatoxin contamination in petfood?

FDA petfood recall data recorded from 2009–2019, indicates that around 14% of all US dry petfood recalls are related to aflatoxin contamination. Some aflatoxin incidents have resulted in the death of dogs where high levels of contamination have been found e.g., Sportmix recall Q4 2020–Q1 2021.

The importance of raw materials risk management in maintaining trust

In any business, including petfood, trust takes a long time to build but can be destroyed in a very short time. Consumers put their trust in petfood manufacturers in ensuring commercial petfood meets the requirements of both pets and pet owners. This requires the petfood producer to formulate and manufacture products that meet different requirements including nutrition, pet enjoyment, value for money, legality, and food safety.

Petfood from different manufacturers often uses the same types of raw material and therefore are likely to have similar hazards. Consider the scenario that raw materials failure, for example aflatoxin contamination, means pet owners lose trust in your ability to supply safe petfood, but your competitor has been more proactive to implement systems that reduce risk and maintain trust?

What might happen to your sales and profitability?

To mitigate against loss of sales and profits it is therefore important to maintain trust through effective risk management systems including those for food safety and raw materials quality.

Understand your raw materials – The key to petfood safety, legality, and quality

Typically, petfood raw materials are “natural” products. This means we must understand their journey from “Field-to-Feeding bowl” including source, characteristics and upstream processes used to convert them into safe, legal petfood of the expected quality.

Raw materials risk management is the name of the process used by many petfood manufacturers to understand and control the ingredients risks. A detailed discussion is beyond the scope of this article but, for effectiveness, we must implement systems based on:

  • Understanding raw materials (source; characteristics; functionality)
  • Understanding supply chain and raw material food safety and quality risks from “field-to-petfood manufacture” – hazard analysis and risk assessment
  • Raw materials specifications
  • Raw materials quality management “field-to-feeding bowl” (Specifications; Raw materials testing; Supplier Quality Assurance; supplier quality data)
  • Petfood factory quality management including: – traceability (raw materials and finished product; finished product testing; recall and withdrawals procedure)
  • Clear communication to pet owners on how to safely store and feed your petfood products.
  • Data to ensure a risk-based approach

How often do aflatoxin-based recalls occur and how do we minimise the recall risks?

As indicated in the key facts, US FDA recall data indicates that aflatoxin contamination accounted for around 14% of all dry petfood recalls in the USA over the 10 year period from 2009–2019.

To minimise the risk of aflatoxin contamination of our products we need to implement an integrated programme of controls based on raw materials risk assessment / hazard analysis, supply chain risk assessment, pre-requisite programs (PRPs), HACCP, supply quality assurance and quality management systems.

It is beyond the scope of this article to give extensive details on aflatoxin management in petfood but key considerations include:

Risk assessment and hazard analysis

For each raw material, consider the likelihood of occurrence (LoO) of aflatoxin contamination based on scientific risk factors e.g., history of “optimal” growing conditions for Aspergillus. What information on food safety e.g., aflatoxin, do the raw materials specifications show?

Testing of incoming raw materials

Based on the LoO design and implement a risk-based sampling plan for raw materials aflatoxin testing and allocate resources (people and budget).

Cleaning and hygiene

What systems are in place for inspecting and cleaning raw materials and finished product storage and handling facilities e.g., feed screws, storage bins / silos?


What aflatoxin controls (control, monitoring, validation, and verification processes) are shown in the HACCP Plan? Are these effective?

Supplier Quality Assurance (SQA)

How do your suppliers control aflatoxin risks? Are these effective?

Petfood manufacture quality management systems

What finished product testing, product recall, traceability systems are in place? Are these effective?

Petfood recalls, are your raw materials management systems effective in reducing the risk?

Many businesses see raw materials risk management, as a cost to the business. However, consider the scenario of a raw materials failure destroying trust, sales, and profitability of your business. Is this a risk worth taking now or in future or are you happy to endorse the view that “It will never happen here”?

Raw materials risk management can be difficult and petfood businesses do not always have the skills or resources required to develop and effective raw materials risk management systems. Contact Synergy Petfood to discuss how we can help with raw materials training and risk management development. Our 40 years’ petfood raw material expertise can help you develop your people and systems to minimise your business risks and support growth. Investing in raw materials risk management training and technical support can help protect our pets and your business.

To help you better understand how to defend your business against raw materials food safety failures and maintain pet owner trust in supplying safe petfood, contact us to discuss how Synergy Petfood can help you develop and maintain effective raw materials hazard analysis and supplier quality assurance systems.