In 1922, the first canned wet pet food made of horse meat hit the US market. Due to the product’s popularity, farmers started breeding horses to supply the demand for wet pet food.
Nowadays, wet pet food is no longer made of horse meat, but of chicken, fish, beef and pork and also vegetables, grains and added vitamins and minerals. Wet pet food processing involves different steps such as weighing, grinding, mixing, packaging, and sterilization.
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Wet pet food processing – How is it made?
Whether it’s in cans, trays or pouches, wet pet food is made with animal meat byproducts such as liver, lungs and kidneys which are not used for human consumption. The wet pet food production line consists of several parts: various grinders, deboning machines, gravy mixers, product transfer equipment, packaging and sterilization equipment.
The raw material, whether meat, vegetables or fish can be fresh or frozen. When working with frozen products it is to avoid contamination. The meat by-products are deboned and ground with industrial grinders. Only then are the vegetables mixed with the meat to prevent them from breaking down in the grinders. Dry ingredients like grains, minerals and vitamins provide the animals with the proper nutrients, based on their age and size. For example, pea fiber, flaxseed, and glucosamine hydrochloride are added to wet pet food for senior dogs to help digestion and improve joint function.
Wet pet food packaging and sterilization: the crucial steps
After combining all the ingredients, wet pet food is transferred into its packaging- cans, trays and pouches. Sealing the packaging of wet pet food is absolutely crucial, because an airtight seal, along with proper sterilization, guarantees the product has a stable shelf life. Sterilization destroys any harmful microorganisms and wet pet food has to be sterilized at a temperature of 121.1°C.
Retort sterilization occurs after the product is packaged into its plastic pouches or cans and then heated up to ensure complete sterilization of both the food and the packaging. With regard to consumers, food pouches are becoming more popular than cans for wet pet food. Food pouches are re-sealable and cost-effective, making dosing a meal easier for the consumer.
Additives in wet pet food
Additives are often added in wet pet food to add nutrition, safety, color, taste, and viscosity to the finished product. Coloring agents such as food dyes or mineral-based colors and flavors such as extracts from fish can improve the appearance and the palatability of wet pet food. Emulsifiers keep fat in the food and water from separating, while thickeners improve the viscosity of the food.
Carrageenan is the most widely used gelling agent in wet pet food manufacturing. It is often used in combination with other thickeners like cassia gum, guar gum or locust bean gum. As for the regulations, both the FDA and the EU find carrageenan safe for both human and animal consumption if the intake is below 75 mg/kg and when used in the amount necessary as an emulsifier, stabilizer, or thickener in foods.
Wet pet food international standards and regulations
Wet pet food processing is strictly regulated around the world. No need to say that pet food must be safe to eat and must be produced under sanitary conditions. In the EU for instance, the meat used for wet pet food has to pass veterinary inspections and be fit for human consumption as well.
In the US, the FDA states that pet food must not contain toxins like arsenic, lead and mercury. Moreover, if you are producing canned wet pet food, you must comply with the FDA’s regulations on low-acid preparation standards: products with pH higher than 4.6 are classified as low-acid. Regarding labeling, the FDA states that the label must include product name, manufacturer’s name and address, the list of ingredients, feeding direction, net quantity statement just to name a few.