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.


… I have a tiny favor to ask. Poisoned Pets’ independent, investigative journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce. But I do it because I believe this work matters – because it might save your pets life.

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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.

Comments (13) Write a comment

  1. Pingback: Darwin's Natural Cat Food Review - We're All About Cats

  2. What do you mean by a human grade pet food? Can you tell me if these 3 brands are good or bad: 1) Young Again Zero Carb 2) Stella & Chewy’s chick chick chicken dinner (grain-free freeze dried) and 3) Primal Chicken and Salmon. I don’t know what to feed a 5 year old cat that was given to me last April. Thanks for any brand name cat food I can buy!!


    • Hi Jan, I recommend the Honest Kitchen. When I say human grade it must be human edible made in a human food processing plant, facility or kitchen. A manufacturer should be able to prove their claim is valid. I do that the Honest Kitchen is such a food. I can’t speak to the others.


  3. Considering this Gary Tashjian (owner of Darwin’s) seems to be the king of excuses and denial, I find it hard to believe that he would of made the necessary improvements to his factory to bring it up to code without a fight. Do you know whether he did/ or is in the process? I’m just curious…


  4. Pingback: Darwin's Refusal to Cooperate in Dog Food Recall Triggers FDA Action; Food Poses "Serious Threat to Human and Animal Health" | Poisoned Pets | Pet Food Safety News

  5. Hi Mollie can you name some of the safe human grade pet foods on the market please? I am feeding my cat a brand called “i love and you” he cannot eat chicken or beef and this company seems safe but I am wondering if you can suggest others?


    • Hi Cindy,

      Is there a reason your cat cannot eat chicken or beef? That seems extreme. Was he diagnosed with a food allergy? Was he ever fed human edible chicken or beef (not ground)? What type of animal protein does your cat tolerate? You might have to go with a specially formulated food that you make yourself. Ask your vet for details.

      I would not recommend ‘I love and you’ brand.


      • Can you explain why you do not recommend I love and you brand? And he does have food allergies but was also diagnosed with feline plasma pododermatitis or pillow pad disease for short. he did not test positive for fiv or felv . I was feeding him purina brand chicken canned cat food until I read the ingredients and stopped that. he was experiencing full blown symptoms of the feet until I found the I love and you rabbit formula. He still is not well but no longer having issues with his feet bruising and bleeding. he also has some markers for inflammatory bowel disease although it is not a diagnosis at this time. My vet was concerned if I could find any food to feed him. She of course gave me the hills prescription food which I did not keep him on. Flea treatment also sets him back so I am concerned what to use foe him with that as well. But he is in indoor cat.


  6. Pingback: FDA Warns Darwin's: Clean Up Your Act or Face The Regulatory Music | Poisoned Pets | Pet Food Safety News

  7. Most of the animal food makers use diseased and animals that are unhealthy in their foods, so many reports on makers of fridkies, any Purina product.. they are killing or making our animals sick and so many dying.. something needs to be done to change this.


    • It is unlikely to change, in the meantime, I suggest you buy a human-grade pet food. There are a few good ones on the market.

      I doubt that any company would intentionally make a food that would kill their consumers – otherwise their wouldn’t have any to sell their food to! But you never know – anything is possible I suppose.



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