Pet Food Shortages? Don’t Panic

I read an article the
other day about a pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, shutting
down due to hundreds of workers becoming infected with COVID 19; at
the time the article was published, 293 of the 730 people in South Dakota who
had been diagnosed with COVID-19 [as of April 12, the number has increased] work
at the plant.

My very first thought was not “OMG, how will this affect my bacon supply?” but, “OMG, I
wonder how the dog food companies are faring.”

Pet Food Production Is An Essential Service

Food production is an essential service – even pet food production. But any manufacturing plant brings people close together and can be a vector for transmission of a virus. That said, in my experience, it takes far more employees to operate a meat-packing plant than a pet food manufacturing plant, and the employees who work on the butchering and packaging lines work far closer together than employees at pet food manufacturing plants.

So far, we’re not seeing any reports of pet food companies
slowing or stopping production. Pet food manufacturers might be more hampered
by ingredient shortages than manpower shortages, at least in the short term –
and so, at some point in the next few months, some of us might be unable to
find our dogs’ favorite food when we run out.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) released a statement
regarding the actions it is taking to safeguard the food (and pet food) supply,
and assuring the public that empty shelves are due to unprecedented demand, not
a lack of capacity to produce, process, and deliver food. The pet food industry
trade publications, too, report that while manufacturers are taking steps to
protect the health and safety of their workers and their products, for the most
part, the pet food producers are, if anything, increasing production to meet demand.

The coronavirus crisis has increased pet food demand

And demand has been high. Pet trade industry publications confirm
that consumers definitely stocked up on pet food in March. Petfood Industry conducted
a poll of pet food companies, and reported that 52% of 81 respondents stated
that sales increased substantially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Another 28% reported that sales had increased “somewhat.”

A different trade publication, Pet
Food Processing,
also conducted a poll of pet food
manufacturers, and reported that 63% of respondents said they had seen an
increase in demand for their products.

None of us want to be caught short of
food for our beloved animal companions – hence the stocking up. But I want to
remind owners that while processed pet food has a very convenient shelf life,
it’s not indefinite. Dry food, in
particular, degrades over time, with the fats in the food becoming increasingly
rancid.

Dog food has a limited shelf life

Most dry dog foods are sold with a “best if purchased by” date that’s about 9 months to 18 months past its date of manufacture; 12 months is average. Natural preservatives such as “mixed tocopherols” (vitamin E) or ascorbic acid (vitamin C) don’t prevent rancidity as long as artificial preservatives such as BHA, BHT, or ethoxyquin, but these synthetic preservatives have been associated with adverse health effects. The foods that are preserved with these synthetic chemicals will last the longest (and be labeled with the most distant “best by” dates), but, in general, these products also tend to have additional attributes that will disqualify them from WDJ’s “approved foods” lists.

Canned foods, of course, last a lot
longer, entirely without preservatives. They are much more expensive, however.
Same with freeze-dried and frozen foods.

Buying an extra bag or two, or even a
couple months’ worth of food in advance, might help you reduce the number of
trips you need to make out of your home, but please don’t go crazy and buy a
year’s worth of food. I guarantee that, by the time you feed the last of it,
some of it will be degraded and rancid enough to give your dog chronic
diarrhea.

Don’t forget to switch your dog’s food

Instead, practice the same kind of
flexible feeding that we have always recommended; if you frequently switch the
brand and varieties of food you feed your dog, it won’t be a problem if one or
more of your favorites is temporarily unavailable. In a pinch, I’d probably
advise feeding a fresher, lower-quality food than a really old, super
high-quality food, even if the bag had been kept in the ideal cool, dry, dark
storage place for the entire time (and how many of you even have a place like
that year-round for food storage?).

The only exceptions? Those of you whose
dogs have severe food allergies and need to feed a rigidly controlled diet that
doesn’t vary. If this describes you and your dog, you have my utmost
sympathies. You probably already have secured a supply of your dog’s food that
will last at least a month or two; just try not to go crazy and buy a whole
year’s worth.

Keep taking those dogs and yourselves
for daily walks! Now, more than ever, we all need them for health.

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