Stale Dog Treats Repacked & Re-dated (Canada)

Normerica repackaged, re-dated stale dog treats, say ex-employees

‘It was disgusting … the warehouse wasn’t clean enough to have open food,’ ex-employee says

Duck, sweet potato and chicken jerky treats imported by Normerica, Inc. and sold by Loblaw, Costco and other retailers are among brands suspected of making dogs ill. (CBC)

Two former Normerica Inc. warehouse workers claim the Ontario-based pet product company had employees routinely switch pet treats between different brand name packages and re-date them after they were imported from China and Thailand.

They claim mouldy and stale pet treats were sent out to stores for sale.

Duck, sweet potato and chicken jerky treats imported by the company and sold by Loblaw, Costco and other retailers are among brands suspected of making dogs ill.

Dog treats warehouse

The former Normerica employee said warehouse staff used heat guns to remove old product labels, before repackaging old dog treats under a new label. (CBC)

The accusations from former employees came after CBC’s Go Public revealed Costco is continuing to sell pet jerky treats from China, despite being warned by a pet owner whose veterinarian believes treats purchased there killed her puppy. The treats are imported into Canada by Normerica Inc.

The company has since had the Duck Tenders the dog consumed tested by the lab it uses.

“The results of the testing confirmed the absolute presence of poultry as a single ingredient, that being duck,” said Mortec’s report. “We concluded no untoward unwanted suspect substances were present in the finished product.”

Numerous tests by the FDA on jerky treats also found no substance that would cause the illnesses, but it is still investigating.

The two former employees who said they worked in an Etobicoke warehouse for Normerica contacted Go Public to report concerns they had over how the products were stored and handled.

One sent pictures to back up their claims. They said they did not take the pictures to make them public, but decided to do so after reading Go Public’s piece on the potential link between the treats and dog deaths.

Treats ‘sitting there for years’

Both former employees spoke on the condition they would not be named. Go Public also agreed not to disclose the duration of their employment. Both worked for Normerica in recent years.

Dog treats warehouse
According to warehouse employees, these packages were cut open so the product could be put in new packages under different brand labels. (CBC)

One said a large part of their job was removing old product from packages that were stale or overstocked, then repackaging or relabelling it in different brand name bags — with a new date stamp.

“Some [of the jerky treats] had been sitting there for years. Dated back to 2008. We would use X-Actoknives to open the packages and then repackage them under new [product] labels and change the date on the new package [to 2011 for example],” said the former employee.

“It was disgusting … the warehouse wasn’t clean enough to have open food.”

Company denial

Normerica president Colin Gleason denied packaging dates are changed, but didn’t explain the photos of products being repackaged.

Jerky treats
Two former Normerica Inc. employees say they repackaged and re-dated stale dog treats while working in an Ontario warehouse. (CBC)

“We do not repackage stale product and sell it with a new date code,” said Gleason in a statement. “Our company policy on any product that is approaching the date code is to donate it locally to animal shelters.”

“Some [treats] that were not packaged properly got mouldy,” said the other former employee.

As a result of these allegations, Loblaw said it is removing all products from Normerica off its shelves.

“Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention. We are taking it very seriously,” said a statement from Kevin Groh, vice-president, corporate affairs and communication.

“We have been in contact with the vendor and are in the process of removing the implicated products from our store shelves as a precaution until our investigation is complete.”

Costco said none of the products imported by Normerica and sold at Costco are stored at the Ontario warehouse in question.

“We receive the treats directly from Asia to the Port of Vancouver where it is sent to our distribution centres,” said Costco spokesman Ron Damiani.

“Random testing is also conducted on each container of product before it ships.”

Customers shocked by mould

Two customers also contacted Go Public to say they bought treats packaged under the Vitalife brand and were shocked when they opened the bags and found mouldy product.

This bag of mouldy Vitalife Chicken Fingers was returned to the Costco in Nepean, Ont., by dog owner Andrea Challis. (CBC)

Andrea Challis said she bought Vitalife’s chicken fingers in February at Costco in Nepean, Ont. Unlike its duck and sweet potato treats, that Normerica product is made in Canada.

“I bought the treats for my three-year-old mini golden doodle Avery, thinking they were a good alternative to the treats made in China,” said Challis.

“When I opened the bag, there was mould everywhere. The best-before date was November 2015. I wrote to Vitalife and never received a response. I returned the treats to Costco, filled out a report and was told that someone would follow up,” said Challis.

“Costco’s response was nonchalant … like they’d heard it before. I never heard back.”

Refunded after purchase

Cathi Iacuitto of Vancouver said her Havanese shih tzu Cooper has been chronically ill, with digestive problems, since eating Vitalife treats she purchased at Superstore and Costco.

She said she returned a bag of chicken jerky because it was mouldy.

“Under close examination of the treats using a magnifying glass there was a mould growing similar to a light Fusarium, which could be toxic,” said Iacuitto, who inspects grain shipments for the federal government.

“I explained to Vitalife that their product made my dog sick and they should have to pay the vet bills. They took no responsibility and instead sent me a refund for the product I returned to them,” said Iacuitto.

“Right now is the third time he has gone in [to the vet]. This bill so far is quoted at $711 and after the lab results may cost me more.”

The former Normerica employees said the repackaging and re-dating of Vitalife and other products was done after shipments from overseas arrived in large containers. The treats had been irradiated and packaged already, in Asia, under various brand names.

They said some of the shipping containers arrived with bugs in them. They also said the warehouse was not air-conditioned or properly ventilated, so some of the products sat for months in overheated conditions.

Cooper’s owner said she’s taken him to the vet several times, suffering from digestive problems. She fed him Vitalife chicken, duck and sweet potato treats. (CBC)

“We have no record of “bugs” showing up in containers coming to that facility,” said Gleason, the Normerica president.

“We do, however, have a policy in place … that should a container show up with “bugs” it would immediately be placed in quarantine and the pest control company would take the appropriate actions to deal with the issue. We have used the services of Abell Pest Control for the last five years.”

‘Nothing got thrown out’

“A bunch of times we would get product and there were bugs in the containers,” the former employee said. “Nothing got thrown out.”

They said all the repackaging happened long after samples were sent to a Canadian lab for testing. Most of the products ​were never tested, they said, and were then interchanged in packages under the Vitalife, Canyon Creek and President’s Choice labels.

Mouldy jerky
Vancouver pet owner Cathi Iacuitto returned a bag of Vitalife chicken jerky treats after seeing the mould. (CBC)

“There were multiple brands in each [shipping] container,” the first source said.

“They would unpack and repackage the stuff in different brand name packages,” said the other source. “I would repackage and then down the line they would be re-dated.”

They said workers often didn’t wear gloves and did the repackaging on cardboard surfaces that weren’t clean. One of the ex-employees estimated they would repackage and re-date approximately 1,800 individual packages of dog treats every two weeks.

“If we needed to ship out an order of Vitalife treats and we didn’t have enough, we would open up the President’s Choice bags and put them in Vitalife bags.”

“You could really notice the treats when they got old because they would crumble in your hands [when the package was opened for transfer to another package].”

Both sources said they believe customers are charged more for treats packaged under the Vitalife label, but they said all were the same product.

Jerky treats 4
One of the two former employees submitted pictures to CBC’s Go Public to back up their claims of concern about how imported pet treats were handled at the warehouse. (CBC)

Gleason said the practices at the warehouse are subject to outside scrutiny.

“Our manufacturing facilities are certified with the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI). As such they are audited annually and certified to the same calibre as any human food manufacturing facility. Additionally, we are subject to random audits by our retail customers as well as inspections by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.”

However, the first former employee also said that when Normerica was expecting clients or other visitors to the warehouse, they were told to pretend they were doing other jobs

“They would come in, and we would be told to make it look like we were doing inventory.”

 Go Public is an investigative news segment on CBC-TV, radio and the web.

Follow @CBCGoPublic on Twitter

Glen Mullaly Illustrations

Illustrator Glen Mullaly claims he was born with a pencil in his hand. “After four unsuccessful attempts, doctors managed to transplant it to just above my right ear”, he adds. Now he draws “neato” pictures for kids of all ages from his  “swanky” studio on the west coast of Canada. Straddling the old-school era  and digital era has given him the advantage of a solid mechanical foundation that he uses in his digital work.  Here are some of our favorites from his portfolio…

F_Robots_main F_Septic_main F_Walk_main page4-1020-full page4-1028-full

Canada goes to the dogs, cats…reptiles

No doubt in a bid to get you to buy more pet products, has released a report listing the Canadian cities (per capita) that most like to pamper their pets (that is, the cities that buy the most pet stuff on their website). Beyond the marketing, the data is actually kind of interesting. Take it with a grain of salt, but here are Canada’s critter-coddling cities (aka pet-friendly Amazon customers):

MacBlog_Pets(click on photo to enlarge) introduced new data that reveals the top cities in Canada that pamper their pets the most. After compiling sales data of all pet item sales since the launch of the Pets store in March 2013, on a per capita basis in cities with more than 100,000 residents, the Top 20 Most Pampered Pets Cities in Canada are:

1. Regina, Saskatchewan 11. Mississauga, Ontario
2. Vancouver, British Columbia 12. Markham, Ontario
3. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan 13. Burnaby, British Columbia
4. Ottawa, Ontario 14. Halifax, Nova Scotia
5. London, Ontario 15. Windsor, Ontario
6. Edmonton, Alberta 16. Richmond, British Columbia
7. Calgary, Alberta 17. Hamilton, Ontario
8. Winnipeg, Manitoba 18. Laval, Quebec
9. Gatineau, Quebec 19. Toronto, Ontario
10. Kitchener, Ontario 20. Surrey, British Columbia

In taking a closer look, the data reveals:

  • Reigning Regina: When it comes to pampering their pets, the residents of Regina know all the tricks. The city was ranked highest for pampering their cats and aquatic animals. The city also bought the most toys overall for their pets with the Kyjen Plush Puppies Ginormous Hide-a-Squirrel being the most popular toy item.
  • Dog Lovers Unite in Vancouver: While ranked second overall, locals in Vancouver love pampering their canines the most. This locale topped the list for ordering the most dog items – from automatic dog feeders to hands-free leashes and more.
  • Feline Friendly Cities: Locals in Regina, followed by Edmonton and Saskatoon showed the most love for their feline friends by buying the most cat products such as cat scratching posts, laser toys and cat bedding.
  • Vancouver Birds Get the Most Worms:  Vancouverites are number one when it comes to pampering their feathered friends, buying the most bird-related items including bird feeders, stands and treats.
  • Reptilian Richmond: When it comes to pampering their reptiles, residents of Richmond (and their reptilian pets) win. Purchasing the most reptile and amphibian products, from terrarium bowls, reptile houses and treats, local lizards, snakes and turtles are treated like reptile royalty.
  • Regina and Laval Residents Know Fish Need Love too: Locals in Regina, followed by Laval were ranked highest for buying the most fish and aquatic pet items, including aquarium filters and accessories, fish food and more.

(Via: Maclean’s)