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As Evanger’s Scandal Unfolds, a Look Back at Their Troubled History

The story begins when Joel and Holly Sher, a suburban couple from Northern Illinois, bought Evanger’s, a sixty-seven-year-old pet food cannery, in 2002. Despite its age, Holly remembered, that just about everywhere she looked she saw a way to grow the business, “Right away I realized, `What a gold mine.’

Her husband Joel, having supplied Evanger’s with raw meat and vegetable products for over 15 years, knew the company product and when the chance to purchase the plant came about, he and his wife jumped at the chance and decided to buy it.

And in only a year after buying Evanger’s, the couple was able to triple the company’s revenue simply by redesigning product labels, adding distributors and improving production.

The number of products grew to 50 products, and although the Evanger’s brand accounted for approximately 50% of the company’s overall business, the rest of the business was involved in making private-label products for other companies. And their market expanded from North America to Latin America, Western Europe, and Asia Pacific.

Eventually, the company grew so large, the Sher’s expanded the original Evanger’s manufacturing and warehouse facility by 7,000-square-feet. And in 2013 they opened a new manufacturing plant, called Nutripack, in Markham, Illinois in 2013.

The Sher’s received nationwide attention when the Rachel Ray Show recently featured them on the program for their kosher pet food products.

But cracks in the façade began to emerge when neighbors of the Evanger’s canning plant began to complaining. And couples dream of owning a thriving and successful pet food business began to crumble, eventually descending into, what has become, a nationwide scandal involving a deadly drug found in their pet food.

City Investigators Describe Evanger’s as a Revolting, Maggot-Infested Nuisance

In the summer of 2006, the Village of Wheeling Illinois (the Village) began what can only be described as an acrimonious relationship with their new neighbors, the Shers, who, according to the Village, did a pretty lousy job of maintaining the Evanger’s pet food plant. What began as a nuisance, grew, to numerous odor complaints emanating from Evanger’s production of dog and cat food. Eventually, the picture turned darker, painting a picture of a slip-shod operation where the Sher’s evidently cared little for the convention of maintaining a sanitary pet food plant and gave every appearance of letting the Evanger’s property go to rack and ruin.

From June 2006 through March 2008, Serena Fried, an inspector for the Village submitted an affidavit in the case of the Village v. Evanger’s which detailed the results of inspections she conducted at Evanger’s during those years. In it, she observed:

• Debris and junk stored in the rear of the property;
• Rusted and unused equipment in the rear of the property stored dangerously high;
• Rusted trailers being used for storage;
• Rusted equipment and plastic totes for chicken product stored in the rear of the property;
• Thousands of maggots on rotten decaying animal parts;
• Open and exposed rotting animal parts;
• Flies and maggots over unknown rotting substances.

On August 24, 2006, the Village issued citations to Evanger’s for violating several ordinances. The citations alleged:

• Failure to provide tight-fitting garbage can lids;
• Containers of food and waste not covered with tight fitting lids;
• Failure to provide approved containers;
• Food waste held in unapproved containers;
• Failure to remove refuse;
• Accumulation of refuse stored on exterior property;
• Failure to abate stagnant water accumulated on exterior property.

During the month of September 2006, in the case of the Village v. Evanger’s, Beverly Slaby, a health officer for the Village, testified that she observed “open containers of chicken, flies, maggots, refuse and unsanitary conditions on the property.” When she inspected the grease interceptors, they were “heavily full of grease, and there were maggots inside.” Ms. Slaby also noticed a strong “rotting meat smell.

On September 12, 2006, a hearing in the case of the Village v. Evanger’s was held which the Sher’s failed to attend. The court entered an order finding in favor of the Village and finding Evanger’s in default. The court ordered Evanger’s to pay the Village a fine of $168,000.

On January 29, 2007, in the Village v. Evanger’s, the Village filed a four-count second amended complaint. Count I was entitled “Accumulation of Litter and Refuse,” Count II was entitled “Public Nuisance,” Count III was entitled “Unlicensed Vehicles Parked on Property” and count IV was entitled “Zoning Code Violation.”

In the summer of 2007, Tim Walsh, a community outreach and events manager for the Wheeling Park District, testified (in the case of the Village v. Evanger’s) that “a smell emanated from Evanger’s similar to that of a dead animal.” According to his testimony, “the smell frequently occurred throughout the summer and continued throughout the summer of 2008,” when Mr. Walsh received numerous odor complaints.

On March 14, 2008, in the continuing case of the Village v. Evanger’s the Illinois court entered an order in which it was rendered it null and void and placed the Sher’s on supervision and ordered the defendants to pay restitution. The court’s order provided, “that the defendants are guilty of all of the violations set forth…[and] it is hereby ordered that the defendants are placed on court supervision until February 20, 2009…[and] it is further ordered that the defendants shall pay restitution to the Village of Wheeling for costs and expenses incurred in this matter to date in the sum of $40,000 payable in 12 equal monthly installments.

FDA Inspectors Find Problems at Evanger’s

In March 2008, the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) visited Evanger’s canning facility. During the visit, the FDA inspector pointed out several deviations, some of which were corrected while the inspection was still in progress. The most significant issue was the need to update the company’s sterilization “Processes” on file with FDA. The inspector pointed out that the Processes then on file with the agency were outdated. The company needed to submit new validation data to cover the changes the company made in their canning process – and they would be required to operate under an emergency operating permit while its documentation was brought up to date.

FDA Orders Evanger’s to Obtain an Emergency Operating Permit

On April 24, 2008, the FDA issued an order requiring that Evanger’s to obtain an emergency operating permit from the FDA before its canned pet food products enter interstate commerce.

The FDA wrote in a press release:

That during a recent inspection revealed significant deviations from prescribed documentation of processes, equipment, and recordkeeping in the production of the company’s thermally processed low-acid canned food (LACF) products. These problems could result in under-processed pet foods, which can allow the survival and growth of Clostridium botulinum (C. botulinum), a bacterium that causes botulism in some animals as well as in humans.

The FDA issues an “Order of Need for Emergency Permit” if the agency determines that a company fails to meet the regulatory requirements to process a product that does not present a health risk. For Evanger’s to resume business, the company must document that corrective actions and processing procedures have been implemented to ensure that the finished product will not present a health hazard.

Botulism is a powerful toxin that affects the nervous system and can be fatal. The disease has been documented in dogs and cats. Signs of botulism in animals are progressive muscle paralysis, disturbed vision, difficulty in chewing and swallowing, and progressive weakness to the body. Death is usually due to paralysis of the heart or the muscles used in breathing…

On April 24, 2008, Holly Sher took umbrage with the FDA press release and in a comment to an article written eFoodAlert she hotly defending her company’s crumbling reputation when she wrote:

The FDA news release is highly inaccurate and misleading. Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Company is not under emergency permit and is currently manufacturing and distributing its products worldwide with FDA approval. There have been no allegations for unsafe product or recalls. Please go to evangersdogfood.com for company statement.

Officials Testify About Repulsive Problems at Evanger’s Plant

On July 3, 2008, in the case of the Village v. Evanger’s, Jeff Wolfgram, a water operator with the Village, testified he received a call about a liquid with a “bad odor” leaking onto the road. The liquid had a “sewer or dead animal smell to it” which he traced the liquid back to Evanger’s. Mr. Wolfgram also saw a red liquid that looked like blood being drained into the storm sewer from a semi-trailer. He further noticed that many of the storage totes that were used for storing raw materials or trash did not have lids.

In the summer of 2008, Beverly Slaby, a health officer for the Village, testified in the case of the Village of Wheeling v. Evanger’s that she continued to receive complaints (beginning in 2006) about the horrible smell emanating from the Evanger’s plant. On numerous occasions during the summer, Ms. Slaby went to Evanger’s and observed “open containers of food and the same rotting meat smell.” She saw plastic saw plastic crates without tight fitting lids and flies and maggots around the crates and in the grease receptors. She further testified that there were bins of chicken that were left open.

On August 5, 2008, approximately five months following the Illinois court order against Evanger’s, the Village filed a petition to revoke the court’s order of supervision. The petition alleged that the Sher’s had failed to comply with the terms of supervision because they had permitted waste materials to accumulate on the property.

On December 2, 2008, Holly Sher again attempted to repair the damage bad press was having on her company’s image by claiming that “we purchase the majority of our ingredients locally including produce at the very same distributor of some of the top five-star Chicago restaurants.

In December 2008, a former employee, who was not identified in an Illinois court, notified Nicor Gas (a gas company in Illinois) about the Shers’ company (Evanger’s) and how they were diverting gas, and an investigation ensued.

Employees Sue Evanger’s For Refusing to Pay Overtime Wages

On January 13, 2009, in Barragan v. Evanger’s, several employees filed a federal lawsuit against the company, alleging that they were not paid overtime. The cause of the suit: Denial of overtime compensation. The Sher’s were accused of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act by refusing to pay their employees overtime wages for time worked in excess of forty hours per week.

Attorney General Uncovers Evidence of Utility Theft

In 2009, the Illinois state’s attorney’s office uncovered evidence that Evanger’s employees had been directed by the Sher’s not to allow Nicor Gas officials on the premises to read gas meters.

FDA Inspectors Find Additional Problems at Evanger’s

In March 2009, the FDA inspector returned to Evanger’s. The inspector pointed out a couple of “minor” deviations, which were addressed immediately and noted on the inspection report. But, according to the inspector, a company hired by Evanger’s to validate their canning process had made a mistake in its submission, on Evanger’s behalf, of the data sent to FDA.

Rather than simply allowing the company hired by Evanger’s to correct the process name, the FDA demanded that Evanger’s submit a separate process validation for each style of canned pet food.

And, two months after the inspection, FDA suspended Evanger’s Emergency Operating Permit – even though Evanger’s was working to comply with FDA’s demands.

FDA Suspends Evanger’s Emergency Operating Permit

On June 12, 2009, the FDA announced that it was suspending the temporary operating permit under which Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Company, Inc. has been operating for the last year.

The agency took this action after determining that Evanger’s was not operating its canning operation according to “. . . prescribed process, equipment, product shipment, and recordkeeping requirements . . .” as set out in the temporary operating permit.

According to FDA, Evanger’s deviations from prescribed protocols could “. . . result in under-processed pet foods, which can allow the survival and growth of Clostridium botulinum (C. botulinum), a bacterium that causes botulism in some animals as well as in humans.”

But by suspending the temporary emergency permit, the agency can – and has – stopped Evanger’s from selling its product outside the company’s home state of Illinois.

Joel and Holly Sher Charged with Felony Theft and Money Laundering

On March 24, 2010, Cook County prosecutors charged Joel and Holly Sher with felony theft and money laundering for allegedly providing free utilities to their company, Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Company, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office said.

They were charged with diverting gas lines, rolling back meters and tapped into high tension electrical lines to provide their manufacturing plant with nearly $2 million worth of free utilities, prosecutors allege.

Prosecutors alleged that Sher ordered employees to use jackhammers to dig through concrete and asphalt and divert gas lines, and even supplied them with a tool to help roll back meters as part of an elaborate system in which gas flow was diverted before it ever reached the meter. Prior to an inspection, one employee was given rubber gloves and directed by Joel Sher to be lifted by a forklift to disconnect an illegal bypass attached to a power line, the State’s Attorney’s office said.

The Sher family also allegedly diverted electricity by tapping into main power lines on poles outside their plant, according to court papers. Prosecutors also allege the Shers directed employees to steal electricity by attaching wires and fuses to high tension lines to redirect power.

The loss to Nicor Gas was estimated at $1.4 million, while ComEd lost an estimated $328,000 in energy services.

Investigators, working with the Wheeling police, Nicor and Commonwealth Edison, conducted a detailed analysis of the factory’s operations and determined about $1,728,000 in gas and electricity had been stolen.

State’s attorney’s office investigators seized $2.3 million from a Chicago bank account belonging to the Shers as part of an ongoing money laundering investigation, the State’s Attorney’s office said.

FDA Find Charges Evanger with Pet Food Fraud

On May 5, 2011, the FDA issued a warning letter to Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Company, Inc. The warning letter reads, in part, as follows:

“From December 2, 2010, through February 10, 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conducted an inspection of your low-acid canned food manufacturing facility located at 221 Wheeling Road, Wheeling, Illinois. In addition, on August 19, 2010, FDA received samples of (b)(4) Lamb and Rice Dog Food from the distributor, (b)(4). This letter notifies you of the violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the FD&C Act) that we found during our inspection and from the samples we received from the distributor. You can find the FD&C Act and its associated regulations on the Internet through links on FDA’s web page at www.fda.gov.

We found that you offered for sale (b)(4) Lamb and Rice Dog Food which was adulterated. Under Section 402(b)(2) of the FD&C Act, 21 U.S.C. § 342(b)(2), a food is deemed to be adulterated if any substance has been substituted wholly or in part therefore. Our analytical sample results of this product revealed that a substance (lamb) was not detected in the product and another ingredient (bovine material) detected in the product was substituted therefore. Furthermore, this product was misbranded. Under Section 403(b) of the FD&C Act, 21 U.S.C. § 343(b), a food is deemed to be misbranded if it is offered for sale under the name of another food. This product was offered for sale under the name of “(b)(4) Lamb and Rice Dog Food.” However, the analytical sample results did not detect the presence of lamb but detected the presence of bovine material.

On December 14, 2010, FDA collected samples of your Evanger’s Grain-free Duck Pet Food during the inspection of your facility. We found that the Evanger’s Grain-free Duck Pet Food product was adulterated. Under Section 402(b)(1) of the FD&C Act, 21 U.S.C. § 342(b)(1), a food is deemed to be adulterated if any valuable constituent has been in whole or in part omitted or abstracted therefrom. Our investigation revealed that a valuable constituent (duck) was not detected in the product and had been omitted or abstracted therefrom. Furthermore, this product was misbranded. Under Section 403(a)(1) of the FD&C Act, 21 U.S.C. § 343(a)(1), a food is deemed to be misbranded if its labeling is false or misleading in any particular. The labeling indicates that Evanger’s Grain-free Duck Pet Food contains duck, but the analytical sample results did not detect the presence of duck in the product.

In addition, your firm was not able to provide processing and production records upon written demand, as required by 21 C.F.R. 108.35(h), for products manufactured in 2009.”

Evanger’s Fined $316,500 in Lawsuit for Failure to Maintain Evanger’s

On September 19, 2011, in the case of the Village of Wheeling v. Evanger’s, the court’s order provided that: (1) judgment was entered on counts I and II and counts III and IV were voluntarily dismissed; (2) a fine totaling $316,500 was imposed on Evanger’s ($250 per day 633 days for counts I and II); (3) Evanger’s motion to strike Serena Fried’s affidavit was denied; and (4) Evanger’s $168,000 deposit with the clerk of the court was to be turned over to the Village.

FDA Finds Significant Violations at Evanger’s in 2011

On December 5, 2011, according to an FDA inspection citation database, numerous and significant violations were found at Evanger’s. Specifically, the violations of the Code of Federal Regulations made at the Evanger’s plant were reported as follows:

  • 21 CFR 110.20(b)(4), Floors, walls, and ceilings, “The plant is not constructed in such a manner as to allow floors, walls, and ceilings to be adequately cleaned and kept clean and kept in good repair.
  • 21 CFR 110.20(b)(7), Screening, “Failure to provide adequate screening or other protection against pests.”
  • 21 CFR 110.37(a), Suitable temperature and pressure, “Failure to provide running water at a suitable temperature for employee sanitary facilities.
  • 21 CFR 110.80(b)(2), Manufacturing conditions, “Failure to manufacture and store foods under conditions and controls necessary to minimize the potential for growth of microorganisms.”
  • 21 CFR 110.80(a)(6), Thawed appropriately, “Failure to thaw frozen raw materials in a manner that prevents them and other ingredients from becoming adulterated.”
  • 21 CFR 110.20(b)(2), Contamination with microorganisms, chemicals, filth, etc., “Proper precautions to protect food, food-contact surfaces, and food-packaging materials from contamination with filth cannot be taken because of deficiencies in plant construction and design.
  • 21 CFR 110.40(f), Q.C. instrument accuracy, maintenance, “Instruments used for measuring conditions that control or prevent the growth of undesirable microorganisms are not accurate.
  • 21 CFR 110.37(b)(3), As source of contamination, “Plumbing constitutes a source of contamination to water supplies.”
  • 21 CFR 110.40(a), Materials and workmanship, “The design, materials, and workmanship of equipment and utensils does not allow proper maintenance.”
  • 21 CFR 110.20(b)(5), Adequate lighting, “Failure to provide adequate lighting in areas where food is examined, stored, or processed.”
  • 21 CFR 110.20(b)(4), Drip and condensate, “The plant is not constructed in such a manner as to prevent drip and condensate from contaminating food, food-contact surfaces, and food-packaging materials.”
  • 21 CFR 110.35(d), Failure to clean – general, “Failure to clean food-contact surfaces as frequently as necessary to protect against contamination of food.”
  • 21 CFR 110.37(b)(2), Convey sewage, “Plumbing is not adequately installed and maintained to properly convey sewage and liquid disposable waste from the plant.”
  • 21 CFR 110.37(a), Safe and adequate sanitary quality, “Failure to use water which is safe in food and on food-contact surfaces.”
  • 21 CFR 110.37(d)(1), Maintained, “Failure to maintain toilet facilities in a sanitary condition.
  • 21 CFR 110.37(e)(1), Suitable locations, “Failure to provide hand washing facilities at each location in the plant where needed.”

FDA Inspectors Find Significant Violations Again at Evanger’s in 2012

On November 14, 2012, FDA inspectors found multiple and significant violations of the Code of Federal Regulations at Evanger’s canning plant. The violations were listed as follows:

  • 21 CFR 110.20(b)(4), Floors, walls, and ceilings, “The plant is not constructed in such a manner as to allow floors, walls, and ceilings to be adequately cleaned and kept clean and kept in good repair.
  • 21 CFR 110.20(b)(7), Screening, “Failure to provide adequate screening or other protection against pests.”
  • 21 CFR 113.60(c), Coding – failure to mark, “Failure to mark each hermetically sealed container of low-acid processed food with an identifying code that is permanently visible to the naked eye.”
  • 21 CFR 113.40(a)(8), Observable, “Failure to install bleeders so that the operator can observe that they are functioning properly.
  • 21 CFR 110.80(b)(2), Manufacturing conditions, “Failure to store foods under conditions and controls necessary to minimize contamination.
  • 21 CFR 110.35(c), Lack of effective pest exclusion, “Effective measures are not being taken to exclude pests from the processing areas and protect against the contamination of food on the premises by pests.”
  • 21 CFR 110.20(a)(1), Harborage areas, “Failure to properly store equipment and remove litter and waste that may constitute an attractant, breeding place, or harborage area for pests, within the immediate vicinity of the plant buildings or structures.”
  • 21 CFR 110.37(b)(3), As source of contamination, “Plumbing constitutes a source of contamination to water supplies.

Health Officials Testify of Revolting Conditions at Evanger’s

On November 28, 2012: In appellate court papers filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County in the state of Illinois in the case of the Village of Wheeling v. Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Co., Inc., reveal disturbing observations about Evanger’s pet food plant dating back to 2006.

For example, during testimony, a health officer for the Village, observed:

“…open containers of chicken, flies, maggots, refuse and unsanitary conditions on the property…grease interceptors [that] were heavily full of grease, and there were maggots inside…[she] noticed a strong rotting meat smell…observed open containers of food and the same rotting meat smell. She saw plastic crates without tight fitting lids and flies and maggots around the crates. There were maggots in the grease interceptors, which meant that they were not well maintained. She further stated that…there were a few bins of chicken that were left open.”

During another inspection, it was observed that there were:

…“ thousands” of maggots [fed] on rotten decaying animal parts; flies all over the property and open and exposed rotting animal parts; flies and maggots over unknown rotting substances.

Metal Pieces Found in Evanger’s Pet Food

On February 17, 2012, a woman reported finding sharp metal tags in her cans of Evanger’s dog food. Evanger’s told the consumer that the tags are used in the poultry industry as a means of identification which “should have been removed from the chicken’s wings” before they got used in pet food. Evanger’s assured her that although a similar incident happened a couple of years ago, they were surprised to hear that there were still cans of it “floating around,” Evanger’s now had metal detectors installed so that shouldn’t have happened again.

Joel Sher Accused of Trying to Bribe Witness in Federal Case

On February 9, 2013, the Chicago Tribune wrote in an article titled ‘Man accused of trying to bribe witness‘ that Joel Sher who is facing charges of illegally diverting gas and power to his pet food company, “was hit with more charges of trying to bribe a witness in the case,” Cook County prosecutors said Saturday. Mr. Sher, allegedly offered $5,000 to a witness “in exchange for changing testimony in a case from 2010 where he is accused of ordering his company employees to divert nearly $2 million worth gas and power lines to his business. Mr. Sher was charged with three new criminal charges, including subornation of perjury, bribery and communicating with a witness.”

FDA Issues Close-Out Letter on Evanger’s

On February 28, 2013, the FDA issued a close-out letter to Evanger’s on completion of an evaluation of the firm’s corrective actions in response to the Warning Letter (CHI-12-11) dated May 5, 2011, which reads in part:

“…Based on the evaluation it appears that Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Company addressed the violation(s) contained in the May 5, 2011, Warning Letter. Future FDA inspections and regulatory activities will further assess the adequacy and sustainability of the corrections. The Food and Drug Administration expects Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Company to maintain compliance and will continue to monitor their state of compliance.”

Dogs Become Deathly Ill After Being Fed Evanger’s Dog Food

On December 31, 2016: A Washington state woman feeds Hunk of Beef to her five pugs as a special New Year’s Eve treat. Four of the dogs became severely ill within 15 minutes and were rushed to an emergency veterinary center. One of the five dogs dies; three require treatment in the veterinary ICU. The fifth dog, which ate the least amount of the food, did not require veterinary treatment.

On January 3, 2017, the remains of the dead dog, a pug named Talula, are submitted by the veterinarian to the Oregon State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory for necropsy and lab analysis.

On January 4, 2017, Evanger’s posts its first comment on the reports, indicating that they had contacted the dog’s owner and that Evanger’s had submitted the batch in question to a third-party lab for testing. Evanger’s also reported that “the entire lot went to one distributor in Washington State, and no other cans from this lot would be anywhere else in the country.

On January 11, 2017, samples of the stomach contents of the dead dog and the remainder of the opened can of dog food are received by the Michigan State University Diagnostic Center for Population & Animal Health (MSU) for toxicology testing.

Toxicologist Finds Pentobarbital in Dead Dog and in Evanger’s Dog Food

On January 17, 2017, Dr. John Buchweitz, Clinical Toxicologist at Michigan State University Diagnostic Center for Population & Animal Health reports finding pentobarbital in the stomach contents and a ‘large quantity chromatographically’ in the sample of food. In reporting this result, Dr. Buchweitz adds, “If this sample came directly from a can, this is an urgent matter and needs to be reported to the FDA Feed Safety Portal.

Between the 16th and the 23rd of January, 2017, Evanger’s posts test results for its Hunk of Beef canned dog food. Lab test results for Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella, Clostridium, and Enterobacteriaceae were negative. Evanger’s shared another lab report on its website, stating that the sample did not contain botulinum toxin. Evanger’s posted its final lab test, reporting that the Hunk of Beef sample was ‘Commercially Sterile.’

On January 30, 2017, Evanger’ attempts to diffuse reports that sodium pentobarbital was found in their pet food (found already by clinical toxicologists at MSU on January 17, 2017) by claiming that:

…anything else that you have read online is not what has been published from the FDA. These “claims” are simply fear tactics and either unrelated or unsubstantiated claims against our company and our foods. As far as Evanger’s is aware and, we believe, the FDA is aware, none of our foods have been reported to contain pentobarbital or any other contaminant.

Evanger’s Recalls Dog Food for Pentobarbital Contamination

On February 3, 2017, at the FDA’s request, Evanger’s recalled five production lots of its Hunk of Beef canned pet food because of contamination with pentobarbital.

Evanger’s is forced to publicly retract it earlier statement that their food does not contain sodium pentobarbital in a press release after they have to issue a recall of its Hunk of Beef “due to pentobarbital exposure.

Evanger’s attempts to divert any criticism away from their company and places the blame for the sodium pentobarbital laced meat squarely on the company that has been supplying their company with beef for the last “40 years” (even though they bought the company in 2002), saying they’ve been “let down by our supplier”.

Evanger’s also tried to blame the regulatory system for allowing animals contaminated with illegal amounts of drug residue to enter the food chain, adding, “there is absolutely no regulation that requires the certified Vet to place any kind of marker on the animal indicating that it has been euthanized and guaranteeing that product from euthanized animals cannot enter the food chain.

However, the law requires USDA inspectors that suspect any animal with a drug residue to be identified with a U.S. Condemned tag, thereby preventing its use in the human food chain. Although U.S. Condemned material can legally be rendered, the Evanger’s Hunk of Beef product is made of 100% beef and not rendered meat.

Finally, Evanger’s claimed they couldn’t find a lab to test for pentobarbital (despite Michigan State University Diagnostic Center for Population & Animal Health testing revealed it in their food initially), complaining they had difficulty in “finding a lab that would test for the presence of pentobarbital in a meat substance. It turns out that most labs only test for this in humans.

Another Dog Food Recalled for Pentobarbital Contamination

February 14, 2017, on the advice of FDA, Against The Grain Pet Food (a Sher family owned pet food business) recalls dog food due to adulteration with pentobarbital.

The recalled products, Against the Grain Pulled Beef with Gravy Dinner for Dogs, was manufactured and distributed in 2015, suggesting the problem of pentobarbital laced meat has been an ongoing problem at Sher family owned pet food plants.

FDA Inspection Reports Reveal Grisly Conditions at Both Manufacturing Plants

February 14, 2017, the FDA posts two inspection reports of Sher family owned pet food plants, one at Evanger’s canning facility in Markham, Illinois and the other at their Nutripack production plant in Markham, Illinois, noting “numerous significant concerns with conditions found at both the Wheeling, IL and Markham, IL plants.”

FDA Warns Consumers Not to Feed Evanger’s or Against The Grain Pet Food to Pets

February 17, 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cautions consumers and advises them not to feed their pets certain lots of Evanger’s canned Hunk of Beef or Against the Grain Grain Free Pulled Beef with Gravy canned dog food after unopened cans from both brands were found to contain pentobarbital, a barbiturate.

The FDA warns:

Pentobarbital is a drug that is used in animal euthanasia. It should not be in pet food and its presence as detected by the FDA in these products renders them adulterated.

The FDA was unable to determine from available records whether any other Evanger’s or Against the Grain products made with beef contain any of the beef that went into the recalled products. Additionally, the agency concluded an inspection of the manufacturing facilities on February 14, 2017, and noted numerous significant concerns with conditions found at both the Wheeling, IL and Markham, IL plants.

It is important to note that the FDA inspection reports are merely initial observations and do not represent a final agency determination regarding Evanger’s and Against the Grain’s pet food companies.

The FDA continues:

The stomach contents of the deceased dog and an open can of the product were tested by an FDA Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network lab, and unopened cans of the product from the pet owner and retailer that sold the products (from the same production lot), were tested by FDA’s lab. All of the samples tested positive for pentobarbital.

The warning clarifies that Evanger’s earlier recall notice lied to consumers:

In its recent press release announcing a limited product recall, Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Company, Inc. stated that the beef for its Hunk of Beef product came from a “USDA approved” supplier. However, the FDA reviewed a bill of lading from Evanger’s supplier of “Inedible Hand Deboned Beef – For Pet Food Use Only. Not Fit For Human Consumption” and determined that the supplier’s facility does not have a grant of inspection from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. The meat products from this supplier do not bear the USDA inspection mark and would not be considered human grade. USDA-FSIS regulates slaughter of animals for human consumption only. Testing by USDA-FSIS of Evanger’s Hunk of Beef confirmed that the meat used in the product was bovine (beef).

FDA reminds consumers that the investigation by the FDA is ongoing and includes an examination of the suppliers of beef to Evanger’s and Against the Grain to determine a possible cause for the presence of pentobarbital. The FDA is also coordinating with the USDA to address any possible areas of shared jurisdiction at the suppliers.

Evanger’s Future Looks Bleak

As the FDA and USDA investigation into the Sher’s pet food businesses, Evanger’s, Nutripack and Against The Grain, continues, consumers worry that other cat and dog foods produced by them might also have pentobarbital laced meat in it. Primarily, because the FDA was “unable to determine from available records whether any other Evanger’s or Against the Grain products made with beef contain any of the beef that went into the recalled products,” leaving consumers with an uneasy feeling that there might be other foods that they produce might also have the deadly drug in it. Notwithstanding the revolting inspection reports of both Evanger’s and Nutripack’s pet food plants, is the very real possibility that some other, if not all, of the pet foods produced there are adulterated.

FDA Urges Pet Parents to Report Problems with Evanger’s Food to Them

February 19, 2017, in an article on Food Safety News, it is reported that FDA has briefed its Consumer Complaint Coordinators on the Evanger’s situation and urges pet owners and veterinarians to report any concerns via the agency’s How to Report a Pet Food Complaint web page. The agency is especially interested in cases where the dog received a veterinary work-up and the owners still have cans of food available for testing by FDA, in which case veterinarians are urged to report such problems to the FDA via the federal Safety Reporting Portal.

Symptoms of oral exposure to pentobarbital can cause drowsiness, dizziness, excitement, loss of balance, nausea, nystagmus (eyes moving back and forth in a jerky manner), inability to stand, coma and death.

Related articles about Evanger’s on Poisoned Pets:

FDA Warns Consumers NOT to Feed Evanger’s Pet Food Due to Pentobarbital Contamination

Evanger’s Dog Food Recalled Again for Deadly Euthanizing Drug: Against The Grain Dog Food, An Evanger’s Owned Company

FDA Confirms Evanger’s Dog Food Contained Euthanasia Drug Pentobarbital

Evanger’s Recalls Dog Food for Deadly Drug Pentobarbital, Distributed in 15 States

Euthanasia Drug Found in Evanger’s Dog Food, Causing Illness and Death of Dogs

Evanger’s Dog Food Blamed in Deadly Dog Food Poisoning; One Dog Died, Three Others in ICU

Busted! Owner of Evanger’s arrested on felony charges

City Sues Evanger’s Pet Food Plant for Putrid Stench of Rotting Meat, Maggots, Waste, Open Sewers

Dangerous metal tags in Evanger’s dog food: Solution? A silent recall

Evanger’s food fraud shenanigans thwarted by blogger

Evanger’s caught in pet food fraud: Plain ol’ beef substituted for duck and lamb

Mollie Morrissette

Mollie Morrissette, author of Poisoned Pets, is an animal food safety expert and advisor to AAFCO. Help support her work by making a donation today.

Comments (31) Write a comment

  1. No where is it noted what company is supply the “meat” for their dog food. While this criminal family continues to stay in business, the big problem to add is who is supply all the dead meat for this plant? Is this pet food simply being made from the millions of euthanized dogs and cats, etc. from pet shelters or veterinarians? So would the pets actually be eating their own kind?
    I read that Joel Sher supplied the meat for Evangers for years before he bought the company. So, where is he getting the meat and under what company name is this being supplied. This is going in the wrong direction because while Evanger’s is a horribly run pet food company, the food origin seems to be the real issue.

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  2. Excellent reporting, Mollie. Quite the morbid story of this company, still trying to paint a pretty face on their pig of an operation, and failing to accept blame for any of this disaster. I’d never heard of this company, and I’ll be linking to this post in my newsletter going out today.

    Thanks so much for being so thorough.

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    • Thank you, Dr. Falconer. Yes, Evanger’s has a long and sordid history and the story, and it is continuing to unfold it is only getting worse. Now they’ve admitted they found horse meat in their pet food; although they won’t say how much horse meat they found, nor in which brand, so how are consumers to know? Instead, they focus their rage at their “trusted” supplier and openly defy and disagree with the FDA’s findings – insisting their meat was USDA-APHIS inspected and that the FDA inspection reports were mistaken on a number of points.

      This company has a history of being unable to accept any blame and continually looks for others to blame their misfortunes on. A company that is unable to do an honest self-appraisal (by conducting a thorough internal audit of their processing) is not a company I would trust.

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      • Whatever became of the felony charges? I have looked for them and they seem to have just disappeared.

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        • I’ve searched on a number of occasions and came up with nothing. I think it would be a matter of getting the records from the county sheriff’s office, but when I went to their website I discovered they do not keep those records online.

          I also have a Pacer account for legal documents filed in the US and I have not seen any additional information as far as lawsuits filed against them in recent years. I’m sure a private investigator would have access to more records than a private citizen like myself does.

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  3. And I’m happy I tend to only feed my pets dry food. Even my cat gets the same tuna or salmon that we eat. Not often mind you but enough to keep his coat glossy.

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  4. Thank you Mollie for this in-d
    epth investigative reporting. The WA woman is my daughter in law and this whole incident has affected my family greatly. This information definitely needed to be made public and to have it all in one place is extremely helpful. Thanks again!

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  5. I am totally disgusted and very angry that this company has operated under these conditions and doesnt care one bit about the dangerous conditions they continue to use in their plants. I am also very upset that the city allowed this to continue for such a very long time without shutting them down completely. Makes me angry and sad because no one did anything until it was to late for this poor woman’s dogs.

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    • I agree, it is a disgrace. But now the FDA has stepped in and is helping pet parents tremendously. My hat is off to them for everything they have done so far. And the story isn’t over yet…

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  6. Dang! Great timeline, Mollie. When you look at the totality of the recent history (past 10 years or so) … whew boy. Too much to take in.

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  7. I don’t trust pet food manufacturers so I started home cooking for my two cats who are also allergic to many ingredients in canned food. Fish oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, etc. I worked with a local university & decided to use the supplement they suggested–BalanceIT. Check out their website. Sure things could go wrong with a supplement too in manufacturing but I like the fact I have more control of what goes into their food. Now we’d like to do the same for the dogs. I don’t like the dry food we’re feeding them and after reading Susan Thixton’s pet food report, I really don’t like the food now! There wasn’t one positive remark about it even though many AKC breeders, etc. are feeding it. And many ingredients are sourced from China. So happy to have found you both!!!!

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  8. An impressive and comprehensive gathering of information for this article!
    I am so glad I have never fed the Evanger brand.

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  9. Thank you for summarizing this all in one place! I was wondering if there is a list anywhere of the products this filthy company makes? Being a private company I’m not sure how to figure this out since they do not have to disclose anything financial about the business to the public like a publicly traded stock company would.

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    • Unfortunately, there is no such list. I recommend calling companies and asking them who cans their food. That’s all we can do for now. Susan Thixton has an article where she describes how the large cans of pet food packed at Evanger’s are marked on a curved line.

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  10. Super (and very interesting) reporting. We are grateful – a terrific resource for consumers to refer to. And it reminds us: the 2008 incident, wherein the Shers issued press release critical of FDA statements, is remarkably similar in tone to the one that they issued this month. History does seem to repeat itself, with the Shers.

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  11. Incredible investigative reporting, Mollie. Can you list the products that use the Evanger’s plant for private label too?

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