Peeling Back the Onion Layers: Story of Menu Foods Recall

We want to take a high-level view of what’s happening right now. Sometimes, it’s hard to see the forest from the trees. The story paints a picture of an ever widening circle of contamination and complacency. It started with one plant, then two, wet food, then several other manufacturers, then dry food, then treats, then one exporter, then possibly human food, then two exporters. It’s still not over.

The first chapter of this saga after the jump.

It started back in December 6, 2006, when Menu Foods switched a supplier — a common practice done to save money. But this new supplier from China, found through a broker in Kansas, turned out to have shipped wheat gluten contaminated with a toxin.

Despite several customer complaints, Menu Foods waited for a routine taste test. It only found out about the lethal problem when testing out a new product on February 23, 2007. Then they waited. And waited. Until March 16 — a Friday, when media scrutiny was at its lowest. They issued a press release recalling 60 million cans and pouches — the largest pet food recall in history. The blogs started digging.

Although the official death toll release by Menu Foods was less than 10, the true death toll would be much higher. Possibly exceeding 3,000. Stories of pet deaths and illnesses flooded the Internet and many vets were overwhelmed. Token media coverage was provided.

The next Friday, the FDA announced that a toxin was found — aminopterin. People breathed a little sigh of relief, thinking that an end was in sight — after all, it was just pet food that was tainted. Official death toll rose to a meager 16.

Then a week later, on another Friday, a different toxin was discovered — melamine — in large quantities. This caused the FDA to quietly ban the import of wheat gluten from a single Chinese exporter. Then more news dropped, two more companies recalled their pet food. Highlighted by the recall from the other major private label wet food maker — Del Monte. They added that the food was sold as being suitable for human consumption. Blogs started to ask “Who else? What else?”

Claims of lax oversight of the industry by the FDA and betrayed customers who purchased premium food flooded the Web. A congressional woman said “the FDA is failing in its responsibilities to protect animals from unsafe food as much as it is failing to protect the American consumers.”

Media coverage intensified, and the Chinese exporter claimed other companies also exported the same supply of wheat gluten.

See the entire chain of events in this timeline.

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