Traceability in Pet Food Manufacturing: Where Safety Meets Marketability

Pet food consumer trends and heightened regulatory oversight have made pet food traceability systems more important than ever.

A pet food manufacturer’s ability to trace product sources through the supply chain has always been a critical responsibility. However, due to recent changes in the industry, what once was a focus on concerns related to food safety and quality issues has expanded to encompass compliance and marketability as well. What are pet food consumers’ and regulators’ expectations around product traceability—and how can it impact a pet food brand’s bottom line?

The Farm-to-Bowl Transparency Trend

Pet food trends in recent years have been inspired by human food trends, which have elevated high-quality whole ingredients from trustworthy sources, preferably handled with minimal processing. On top of this, today’s pet owners consider themselves “pet parents,” and as such, want to ensure that the food they are giving their four-legged kiddos meets the highest standards.

The pressure to practice and demonstrate responsible sourcing and manufacturing has only increased with competitive offerings of clean ingredients, “all-natural” formulations, and products “Made in America.” When a pet food brand makes a claim on a label, they are on the hook with regulators, who expect proof in the product approval process. And while proofs are not yet being demanded in the pet food aisle, consumers are more attuned to ingredient composition and origins than in years past.

Without a foolproof traceability system in place to track ingredients throughout the manufacturing chain, it can be difficult to uphold and demonstrate the authenticity of product sources and processes. Failing to do so can result in a delay in product release or even a recall. As seen from the infamous 2007 pet food recall, recalls not only put pets in harm’s way but can wreak havoc for pet food retailers, manufacturers, and everyone along the supply chain. By investing in a strong traceability system, manufacturers can ensure the legitimacy of their marketing claims while guarding against product adulteration.

Recall Preparedness

While everyone thinks primarily of what a hit to a brand’s reputation will cost, the actual logistics of a recall can be incredibly expensive, which means the faster and more precise the process, the better.

Traceability systems maximize the efficacy and efficiency, as well as minimize the negative impact of a potential recall. That’s why today’s pet food manufacturers are making investments to replace the paper trails and filing rooms of yesteryear with more efficient traceability systems that incorporate barcode scanning, enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, and computer-based quality systems. Having modern technologies in place expedites the execution of an actual recall and makes it easier for manufacturers to conduct mock recalls every six months, per industry standard. It also supports a manufacturer’s compliance with the new FSMA Preventive Controls rule, which, among other components, calls for a written food safety plan, including a recall plan.

Issues related to a raw ingredient, a finished product, or a packaging material can prompt a recall, and by conducting a mock recall, the manufacturer ensures that their food safety plan and traceability systems are functioning in the proper manner. For example, in the case of a mock recall related to an adulterated ingredient, the traceability system’s reliability would be tested at the manufacturer to ensure it:

  • Identifies the ingredient lot and affected finished product lots
  • Confirms that inventory matches unused quantities
  • Pulls and prints batch and process usage records
  • Obtains packaging records
  • Produces a list of product SKUs and package dates
  • Compiles a list of pallet tag numbers along with shipping destinations
  • Notifies direct customers, distributors, and the FDA when appropriate

In executing the mock recall, the manufacturer can record a timeline of activities, note any issues encountered, and create a plan of corrective actions to be implemented so the plant is compliant and prepared for an actual recall event.


If pet food consumer trends continue in the direction they have been heading, transparency will be expected for pet parents, with the effects of a recall becoming all the more devastating. Pet food brands would be wise to review the traceability systems and mock recall procedures of their manufacturers to ensure they meet the compliance standards of today and the rising expectations of tomorrow.