FDA Investigates Darwin’s Pathogenic Pet Food Problems Following Illness and Death of Pets

The Food and Drug Administration and the Washington State Department of Agriculture are investigating a pattern of Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes contamination in Darwin’s raw pet food products dating as far back as October 17, 2016 in connection with multiple reports of illness and the death of one kitten.

This week Darwin’s faced yet another recall involving two additional products after the FDA confirmed that new samples tested positive for Salmonella. The products being recalled are ZooLogics Chicken and Vegetable Meals for Dogs Lot #41567 and ZooLogics Duck and Vegetable Meals for Dogs Lot #41957.

No information regarding this recall is on Darwin’s website. Nor has Darwin’s ever issued a public notice to the FDA, instead Darwin’s prefers to notify its customers directly by way of emails.


Since 2016, Darwin’s has recalled the following raw pet food products for contamination with Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes:

Darwin’s Natural Selections Duck with Organic Vegetables Meals for dogs, due to Salmonella
Darwin’s Natural Selections Chicken with Organic Vegetables Meals for Dogs, due to Salmonella and Listeria Monocytogenes
Darwin’s Natural Selections Turkey with Organic Vegetables Meals for Dogs, due to Salmonella
Darwin’s Natural Selections Frozen Duck Meals for Cats, due to potential contamination with Salmonella
Darwin’s Natural Selections Frozen Raw Beef with Organic Vegetables Meals for Dogs, due Listeria Monocytogenes
Darwin’s Natural Selections Frozen Raw Turkey with Organic Vegetables Meals for Dogs, due to Listeria Monocytogenes
ZooLogics Frozen Raw Turkey with Vegetable Meals for Dogs, due to Listeria monocytogenes


In the most recent letter to Darwin’s customers the company’s founder, Gary Tashjian, tells his customers that “pathogens (such as Salmonella, E.coli, and Listeria) … are actually a relatively low risk associated with raw food.” What he fails to emphasize is that, as with humans, pets with pre-existing or chronic medical conditions, undeveloped or weakened immune systems, such as puppies, kittens, older pets, as well as pregnant women are at higher risk of problems associated with bacteria-laden pet food. Particularly, when Listeria monocytogenes infects a woman during pregnancy, it can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature labor, and serious illness or death to newborns.

Because of the danger of feeding pathogenic food to these high-risk groups, he advises his customers to “cook the food lightly (i.e., to 165 degrees) to help eliminate pathogenic risks.” Likewise, on Darwin’s website, they recommend to “gently cook” the food.


Unfortunately, Darwin’s advice to cook raw pet food with chunks and shards of bone in it is not only dangerous but irresponsible. This same advice was given to a customer earlier this year whose dog was experiencing difficulty digesting the food. Following the advice to “lightly cook the food” her veterinarian diagnosed that the dog had a “mass of indigestible bones” in its stomach. As the mass contained shards of bone, they made several slivers in his intestinal track. After the consumer complained, Darwin’s reassured her they would no longer instruct people to cook the food with bones in it.


The risk of feeding cooked bones to pets is constipation due to bone fragments. Dogs have a hard time passing the bone fragments because they’re very sharp and they scrape the inside of the large intestine or rectum as they move along, which causes severe pain. The risk of feeding pets the cooked bones is the risk of peritonitis. Peritonitis is a bacterial infection of the abdomen which is caused when bone fragments poke holes in your dog’s stomach or intestines. Consumers should be aware that peritonitis can kill their dogs.


In the letter Darwin’s founder sent to his consumers, he claims that Darwin’s only uses “human-grade” raw materials “that would be acceptable for people to eat.” Darwin’s also makes this same claim on their website: “Darwin’s uses only carefully sourced human-grade ingredients.”

However, Darwin’s cannot make those claims as their food is not manufactured in a human food facility. Therefore, Darwin’s cannot, by law, be considered “human grade” because it is made in a pet food facility and as such those claims are considered false and misleading. To label food as a “human grade pet food,” the ingredients must be suitable for humans, and the food itself must meet strict FDA manufacturing and packaging regulations for human food.


Raw pet food enthusiasts will insist that the FDA investigation of Darwin’s failures is part of a malevolent scheme to throw all raw pet food manufacturers under the bus. And although the focus of the FDA warning is about Darwin’s specifically, it is unmistakably a broader warning about raw pet food in general. Regardless, as the FDA has a zero-tolerance policy for Salmonella and any other pathogenic bacteria in pet food – raw or cooked – means that the FDA will bust any manufacturer selling any pet food found to be contaminated with harmful bacteria.

Admittedly, there seems to be a disturbing pattern of kibble manufacturers getting handled with regulatory kid gloves as compared to raw pet food manufacturers. However, the primary message we should focus on is that any pet food contaminated with pathogens – whether raw or cooked – puts pets and humans at risk.


Although one can argue that raw pet food manufacturers come under closer scrutiny than cooked pet food manufacturers it cannot be argued that raw pet food, in general, has a higher risk of being contaminated with bacteria. Whether consumers feel that risk is one they are willing to take is a personal choice, the fact remains that bacteria is not allowed to be in any pet food – cooked or raw – because of the risks that such foods have.


The FDA recommends that consumers should not feed their pets recalled lots of raw pet food manufactured by Darwin’s. And consumers who purchased this raw pet food should throw it away. People who think they might have become ill or their pets may be ill from exposure to contaminated raw pet food should talk to their health care providers or veterinarians.

The FDA also recommends that consumers who had this product in their homes should clean their refrigerator and clean and disinfect all bowls, utensils, food prep surfaces, pet bedding, toys, floors, and any other surfaces that the food or pet may have had contact with. Because animals can shed the bacteria when they have bowel movements, it’s particularly important to clean up the animal’s feces in yards or parks where people or other animals may become exposed.


To find out more about the health risks of pathogenic pet food and the answers to the following questions can be found on the FDA’s warning page:

What are the Symptoms of Salmonella Infection (Salmonellosis)?
How Soon After Exposure do Salmonellosis Symptoms Appear?
What are the Complications of Salmonellosis?
Who is at Risk of Salmonellosis?
What are the Symptoms of Listeria Monocytogenes Infection (Listeriosis)?
How Soon After Exposure do Listeriosis Symptoms Appear?
What are the Complications of Listeriosis?
Who is at Risk of Listeriosis?

The FDA encourages consumers to report complaints about this and other pet food products electronically through the Safety Reporting Portal or by calling their state’s FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinators. To find out more, visit FDA’s page on “How to Report a Pet Food Complaint.” Find out more about Salmonella and Listeria from the CDC.


Darwin’s Recalls Pet Food For Salmonella and Listeria; Pathogen Problems Date Back 17 Months

Sharp Bones, Plastic Bags and Metal Found in Darwin’s Dog Food; Complaints Date Back Months

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Mollie Morrissette

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