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Pet food recall that won't end? Diamond cat food now risky.

Pet food recall from Diamond Pet Foods has been expanded eight times, triggered an FDA investigation and critique, and now includes cat food. The company's handling of the salmonella crisis may be even worse.

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It's the food recall that just won't end.

From the recall of a single batch of its “Diamond Naturals” dry dog food on April 6 for possible salmonella contamination, Diamond Pet Foods has expanded the recall on eight separate occasions, endured a week-long inspection of one of its plants by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which criticized its practices, and most recently acknowledged that cats are also at risk.

Yet the Missouri-based maker of Diamond, Premium Edge, Kirkland Signature, and other pet food brands has not called special attention to the expansion of the recall to cat food beyond amending a statement on the company’s Internet recall site: “Diamond Pet Foods has voluntarily recalled some brands of dry dog and cat food that it manufactured in its Gaston, S.C. facility between December 9, 2011 and April 7, 2012 due to potential Salmonella contamination.”

There is no specific information on which brands and batches of cat food may be affected, though you can check a questionable bag's product code to find out. 

On Friday morning, the Calgary Herald in Alberta, Canada, reported that two cats in a Montreal animal shelter have died, and another is ill, after eating Diamond Pet Foods products. Also in Quebec, another person has been reported with a case of salmonella, bringing the total number of cases to 16 in the United States and Canada caused apparently by handling the pet food.

Also on Friday, the company issued yet another recall involving certain sizes of its Diamond Naturals lamb and rice dog food manufactured on Aug. 26, 2011, which is later than the date range for all its other recalled products so far.

One of the unusual aspects of this recall is Diamond's release of information. On April 12, six days after Diamond's first recall, the FDA began an investigation. Its week-long inspection of Diamond's Gaston facility found numerous violations.

“All reasonable precautions are not taken to ensure that production procedures to not contribute contamination from any source,” its report said, noting that the factory’s screening process for possible contaminants wasn’t thorough enough.

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Other violations: Factory workers were seen handling sensitive equipment with bare hands; there weren't enough hand-washing stations throughout the plant (even in areas where raw meat was being handled); the factory used damaged equipment with holes and cuts, which would make the tools difficult to clean properly.

Despite these findings, the company didn't issue a second recall until a week after the inspection was over, involving a single production run of its Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover's Soul brand. On April 30, it issued another expansion of the recall, this time involving puppy food. On May 3, the federal government announced it had linked 14 cases of salmonella in adults to Diamond's dog foods. On May 4, Natural Balance Pet Foods and WellPet LLC, makers of Wellness, announced a recall of their dog foods made at Diamond's plant. From there, the recalls kept coming.   

“Diamond handled it the wrong way,” says Mike Sagman, creator and editor of dogfoodadviser.com, a consumer site that rates dog food products and follows pet-food industry news, including recalls. “The company knew more than they were letting out, and they let it dribble out over the month instead of releasing it all in one document. The damage is greater when you aren’t transparent.”  

Recalls, he says, are unpredictable and largely unavoidable for large manufacturers in any industry. But they can be an opportunity for a company to shine, he adds, in terms of responding to a problem and coming clean with customers.

But  “Diamond really blew it,” he says. “Their chance of survival from this is questionable, my common sense tells me.”

The company itself didn't return multiple calls to its media line. Its consumer hotline was answered promptly, but on two separate occasions its operators declined to provide any information once the caller identified herself as a reporter.

The FDA is also tight-lipped.

“The investigation is open and pending so we are limited in the information we can release to the public,” FDA spokeswoman Laura Alvey wrote via e-mail. “Diamond voluntarily shut down their facility to clean (including the two lines where the contaminated product was made) and to implement additional procedures.”

 According to Ms. Alvey, subsequent testing found no contamination, and the facility resumed production. 

What does all of this mean for consumers? Below is the most updated information on the recall, which now includes cat food:

Affected brands manufactured by Diamond Pet Foods are:

Brands manufactured at the Gaston facility that have issued separate recalls are:

Affected batches were manufactured between Dec. 9, 2011, and April 7, 2012, except for the latest recall involving Diamond Naturals Small Breed Adult Dog Lamb & Rice Formula, which was also manufactured on Aug. 26, 2011. At least 39 states are affected, though because the food is often sold through online vendors, it could be just about anywhere. For instance, Califonia’s Department of Public Health has issued its own warning that affected pet food was sold in the state, though California was not listed on any of the official recalls.

The best way to figure out if you have an affected batch is to check the "Best by" dates  and specific product codes on your bag of food. For specific product codes and “Best by” dates for affected batches, visit diamondpetrecall.com or the FDA’s Animal and Veterinary recalls page, here.

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