Two brands of chicken jerky pet treats will soon reenter the market after years of reports of pet illness—even death—associated with consumption of jerky treats made with chicken sourced from China. Milo’s Kitchen and Nestlé Purina (the maker of Waggin’ Train treats) say that since the voluntary recall of their jerky treats last year due to antibiotic residue, they have reevaluated, revamped, reformulated and even discontinued certain products mired in suspicion and a nearly decade-old U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigation. Now manufacturers are staking their name on the belief that they finally have it right.
Waggin’ Train products—including Chicken Jerky Tenders, Smoky Jerky Snacks and Jerky Duos—were back on shelves in February. Milo’s Kitchen will reintroduce its Chicken Grillers and Chicken Jerky Recipe treats in March, along with a new product, Burger Bites. A standout difference between the two relaunches? Nestlé Purina has decided to continue manufacturing Chicken Jerky Tenders in China.
Bill Salzman, director of corporate communications for Nestlé Purina, says the company now uses a single chicken supplier and a single manufacturer in China that’s part of a U.S.-based company. He says the reason Nestlé Purina continues to source its chicken from China for the jerky product is simple: “In China, dark meat chicken is preferred for human food production, so the quality white meat chicken is more readily available to us in the quantities we need to make our jerky dog treats.” Waggin’ Train’s Smoky Jerky Snacks and Jerky Duos, however, will be made in the United States with chicken sourced exclusively from a single U.S. supplier.
“We’ve made significant enhancements from start to finish to ensure the quality and safety of all of our Waggin’ Train treats,” Salzman says. He says sourcing meat from a single supplier was essential: “Sourcing exclusively from a single chicken supplier means greater control over all aspects of the chicken supply, including how the chickens are fed, raised and processed.” He adds that Nestlé Purina will also have its own quality inspectors at the Chinese manufacturing plant to oversee the production process.
For Milo’s Kitchen, sourcing its chicken from China was no longer an option. “We’re not bringing the products with ingredients sourced from China back,” says Geoff Tanner, vice president of pet snacks for Milo’s Kitchen. Instead, the company decided to reformulate the products and source 100 percent of its meat from the United States, exiting China completely. “The brand Milo’s Kitchen is a brand that’s grounded in a philosophy that the dog is an equal member of the family and deserves ingredients that are as good as our own food.”
Waggin’ Train treats also offer chicken as the No. 1 ingredient and no artificial colors or flavors. Packaging touts no artificial preservatives. Salzman says he is confident Waggin’ Train now has the highest-quality food safety program in the industry. “Our treats are quality-checked at each step and quality-monitored under a comprehensive food safety program designed to prevent potential quality issues before they can occur,” he says. Purina has increased its product testing to include surveillance for Salmonella, melamine and antibiotics. “We have a rigorous evaluation and sampling program for all raw materials used in our products and have quality assurance specialists at each producing facility who are trained to sample or analyze incoming ingredients,” Salzman says.
Consumers will also notice that for the first time Purina will lend its logo to Waggin’ Train packaging. “We’ve added the Purina logo to every package as a sign of our confidence in the quality and safety of our treats,” Salzman says. Where the meat is sourced will also be available on the back label of Waggin’ Train products.
Serving size recommendations will also be included on packaging. “We remind pet owners that treats are treats and should be fed according to a dog’s weight, using the treating guidelines on each package,” Salzman says. “We recommend that caloric intake from treats not exceed 10 percent of a dog’s total daily caloric requirements.” In fact, Waggin’ Train states on the front of its packaging that treats are intended for adult dogs five pounds and over.
Feeding guidelines are also on Milo’s Kitchen treat packaging. Its guidelines do not exclude puppies or small dogs but recommend that treats make up no more than 15 percent of a dog’s caloric intake and strongly advise against exceeding the guidelines. “Your dog’s veterinarian can also provide guidance on how many calories your dog may consume daily,” the Milo’s Kitchen website states.
However, many veterinarians, including C. A. Tony Buffington, DVM, MS, PhD, a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition and professor at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, says he would not feed his dog the revamped jerky treats—or any “snacks” between meals, as he calls them. In general, he believes these snacks are unnecessary. “I am a huge fan of treats, which are things that bring pets joy. I am not a fan of snacks because it risks weight gain and teaches pets to beg,” Buffington says. He advises veterinarians to counsel clients not to feed pets snacks of any kind.
The ingredient list for Waggin’ Train’s Chicken Jerky Tenders includes chicken breast—sourced from China—and vegetable glycerin. Milo’s Kitchen’s Chicken Jerky Strips ingredient list isn’t quite that simple but is domestically sourced (see ingredient list at the end of this story).
Both products contain glycerin, an ingredient some have pointed to as a potential culprit in jerky-related illness. Glycerin can be made two ways, from natural oils and fats or as a byproduct of biodiesel manufacturing. It has been alleged that some Chinese manufacturers may have used the abundant and potentially toxic biodiesel glycerin instead of the higher-grade glycerin consumers expect. Salzman says Waggin’ Train sources its glycerin from a supplier in Malaysia. Milo’s Kitchen glycerin is sourced here in the United States. Both are pharmaceutical-grade products approved for use in human foods.
However, many consumers—and dogs, for that matter—aren’t thinking about glycerin when they buy (or eat) treats. For Milo’s Kitchen the revamp didn’t just improve ingredient quality but palatability as well. “The product was reformulated to be a little moister instead of the hard jerky product we originally had,” Tanner says. “You can tear this product. It’s much softer and consumers said they preferred it.”
Despite the ongoing FDA investigation, neither company seems worried about demand for its products. Both say the relaunch of jerky treats was consumer-driven. “We’ve heard from thousands of consumers who want Waggin’ Train chicken jerky dog treats for their dogs,” Salzman says. “We’ve worked very hard over the past year to strengthen our already strict quality control measures to ensure Waggin’ Train treats meet Purina’s high standards.”
Tanner believes no longer sourcing meat from China brings the entire Milo’s Kitchen treat portfolio in line with company philosophy and with what customers expect from the brand. “I feel really good that we’re responding to our consumers on what they asked. That’s what a good company does,” Tanner says. “It’s a different approach than Nestlé. We decided to bring it all back. I know we’re doing the right thing here.”
Still, the FDA and the American Veterinary Medical Association are asking veterinarians to continue to be aware of jerky-related illness and to send patient samples for testing when it is suspected. To see the FDA’s “Dear Veterinarian” letter explaining how clinicians can assist in the investigation, go to fda.gov. The agency also provides a fact sheet explaining jerky-related illness to pet owners, including signs to look out for if pets are fed jerky treats.
Waggin’ Train ingredients
Chicken Jerky Tenders: chicken breast, vegetable glycerin
Smoky Jerky Snacks: chicken, brown sugar, salt, glycerin, natural smoke flavor, mixed-tocopherols (a preservative)
Jerky Duos: chicken, sweet potatoes, brown sugar, salt, glycerin, natural smoke flavor, mixed-tocopherols (a preservative)
Milo’s Kitchen ingredients
Chicken Jerky Strips: Chicken, soy flour, sugar, glycerin, textured soy protein, salt, guar gum, sodium tripolyphosphate, monoglyceride, garlic powder, sorbic acid, citric acid, BHA (used as a preservative), natural smoke flavor, annatto color, onion extract.
Chicken Grillers: chicken breast, rice flour, glycerin, gelatin, soy flour, wheat gluten, modified tapioca starch, sugar, soy protein concentrate, salt, monoglyceride, sodium tripolyphosphate, potassium sorbate (used as a preservative), citric acid, caramel color, garlic powder, natural smoke flavor, BHA (used as a preservative), dried egg white.