Inspection of Darwin’s Reveals Revolting Conditions, Complaints of Ill and Dying Pets

A new report on Darwin’s raw pet food company uncovers a virtual “laundry list” of violations and repeated complaints of sick and dying pets.

An inspection report provided to Food Safety News reveals a multitude of food safety violations and hundreds of complaints. Despite hundreds of accounts of sick and dying pets, Gary Tashjian, the owner of Darwin’s Natural Pet Products, denied that his company received any consumer complaints regarding Salmonella, E. coli or Listeria. Yet, a review of the pet food company’s records showed that Tashjian knew about the pathogen problems.


But Darwin’s did receive complaints, many of them. The company logged 332 complaints about sick and dead pets, and more than a third of the complaints were related to a sick pet.

Tashjian admitted though that if a consumer were to complain, it would be up to the consumers to prove something was wrong with the raw pet food. Darwin’s required the consumer provide them with “test results from a veterinarian.” If a consumer were able to give the company those tests, at that point the company would take steps to discover if the same food  – at the plant – tested positive for bacteria at which point the company would decide whether to act or not.


But not all complaints involved sick pets, some of them included complained the pet food had foreign material in it “including metal, plastic, rubber bands, produce bands and ties, hairnet material, and a pebble,” that the food was spoiled and the packages leaked.

The inspectors found that Darwin’s did not have a written sanitation plan and the company did not conduct their operations using cGMPs (current Good Manufacturing Practices).


Some of the violations observed at Darwin’s pet food plant include:

  • Raw meat and poultry were not thawed under conditions that would “minimize the potential for growth of undesirable pathogens”;
  • Animal food contact surfaces were “not made of appropriate materials or maintained to protect animal food from becoming contaminated”;
  • Equipment and utensils “not used appropriately to avoid adulteration of animal food with contaminants”;

The inspection report details a lengthy and gag-worthy list of the unsanitary conditions at the plant:

  • A mallet with “raw meat material” on it was on a rack used to store sanitized equipment in the sanitizing room;
  • 4-wheeled hand cart with two shelves was covered with “wet cardboard containing raw meat.” The cart handle was broken, and surface appeared “not to be cleanable”;
  • A dirty tool from processing floor was placed on top of a sanitized yellow pallet;
  • The food prep table grooved and “not cleanable”;
  • The flashing between wall and floor and behind prep table was “damaged and contained meat debris”;
  • An employee broke down “dirty cardboard boxes” with gloved hands and then returning to processing floor “without changing gloves or sanitizing”;
  • A freezer box had “bloody and rusted metal racks; bloody floors and boxes storing frozen meat; organic material behind racks”;
  • A cooler box had “bloody boxes of meat and vegetables stored on metal racks and pallets with organic material behind racks”;
  • Cardboard boxes containing raw meat were observed “leaking and dripping blood onto boxes stored below and onto adjacent boxes, pallets, and metal racks”;
  • Wooden pallets and metal racks “not maintained or designed to be cleaned in a manner that protects ingredients against contamination.”

You may be asking yourselves, why don’t inspectors just shut the place down right then and there? Because manufacturers are told to correct the violations found during an inspection before state or federal officials can take any regulatory action. However, if a manufacturer fails to make corrective actions – in other words, clean up their act – they will face the regulatory music.


Thanks to Phyllis Entis (aka the Food Bug Lady) who was the source for this article. Phyllis never fails to dig a little deeper than the rest of us, uncovering the nasty nuggets and dastardly deeds of unscrupulous food companies that otherwise would have gone unnoticed. And she knows more about microbiology than anyone I know. Check her out on her website, eFoodAlert, or at Food Safety News…you’ll be glad you did.


If you believe your pet has become ill from consuming a pet food, please provide the FDA with valuable information by reporting it electronically through their Safety Reporting Portal or call your local FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator.

If you and your veterinarian think a pet food or treat is the source of a problem – save it – because your state agricultural or veterinary diagnostic lab may want to do testing. If you need more help, find out how to report a pet food complaint to the FDA.


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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.