Is Water Activity the most important Pet Food Specification ?
Pet food production is one of the fasted growing industries worldwide valued at $91 billion dollars in 2018 (1). Gone are the days of feeding your pet scraps from the table; pet food today is carefully formulated to provide healthy diets, avoid allergies, and provide variety. With the increasing value of pet food comes increased expectations for safety, quality, and consistency. Correspondent with increased expectations has been more intensive governmental oversight and regulations. When the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed back in 2011, it included recommendations to make regulations on pet food production equivalent with human food production. The last of these updates in regulations went in to place for very small businesses as of September 2018 (2). Meeting these new FSMA regulations while still making a safe, quality product that is profitable is the current goal and challenge of the pet food industry. The foundation of the FSMA approach to food safety is the utilization of Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls (HARPC) programs. The purpose of these programs is to assess risk of food safety related hazard, implement controls for these hazards, verify that the controls are working, and take corrective actions if they are not (3). The hazards associated with pet food are primarily focused on microbial spoilage by foodborne pathogens, but other hazards such as contamination by metals, chemicals, or adulterants are also targeted. Controls used to prevent hazards depend on the hazard, but for microbial spoilage, the main controls are lethality treatments to kill pathogens and product formulation to prevent microbial growth during storage. These controls must then be monitored through testing such as internal temperature during lethality treatment or water activity of finished product, and the monitoring methods must be verified. Meeting FSMA requirements can be challenging but is made easier by the availability of good instrumentation such as water activity instruments that are reliable and easily verified.
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