The Impact of Freshness on Nutrient Value in Raw Pet Food
While the quality of ingredients is clearly one of the most important factors in choosing a pet food to recommend to your clients, it’s not the only one. The condition of the food when it reaches the consumer is equally important. The best way to assure that the food is of high quality when it’s actually consumed by the pet is to buy from as close to the source as possible.
All raw food is not created equal—it has to be fresh to deliver the highest nutritional benefit.
Proper Handling and TimeNutrients degrade with time, even when frozen. Even raw foods made with the best quality ingredients can be compromised by improper handling. According to the USDA, frozen ground meat (the primary ingredient in any good-quality pet food) has only a 3 to 4-month shelf life, even with the best handling possible. 1 The pet food distribution system (i.e., distributors and retailers) was designed for dry and canned foods – with one to two-year shelf lives at warehouse temperatures – and not for frozen foods with limited shelf life and special handling requirements. The primary culprit is water-when raw meat freezes, the water within the meat forms ice crystals which puncture and damage nutrients. The crystals continue to grow, even at 0 degrees, so the longer the time in the freezer, the more damage is done.
Ground Meat and VegetablesGround meat is particularly susceptible to such damage (and therefore has a shorter shelf life) because grinding breaks the protective cell walls of the meat and fat cells, making the fragile nutrients more exposed to oxidizing agents. The ground vegetables that are added to raw diets further decrease shelf life, as they add more water, creating more damage. Added supplements, such as fish oils, shorten shelf lives even more because some omega-3s are the most fragile. Groundfish products have the shortest shelf lives. The problem of freshness is exacerbated by a distribution system that creates too many opportunities for poor handling and temperature cycling, further reducing nutrient quality. Raw foods sometimes go through multiple freeze/thaw/freeze cycles as they make their way from manufacturer to distributor (who often do not have freezer trucks) to a retailer (who often have frost-free freezers with automatic warming cycles).
The Bottom LineQuality raw diets, even when handled well, have 3 to 4-month shelf lives (at most). The pet food distribution system-manufacturer to distributor to retailer to dog owner is not geared for getting foods to consumers in that length of time. That’s why many raw diet manufacturers who work within the traditional distribution system give their foods a one-year or more shelf life, well beyond the ideal limit.
Steve Brown's RecommendationMake sure the food you recommend for your clients’ pets is less than three months old. One way to assure that it is is to recommend pet meals that are home delivered, which are a good way to guarantee freshness and quality.
The Darwin’s Promise - From Farm to Food Bowl in Less than a Month!Darwin’s unique approach to making and delivering its meals assures the freshest product available anywhere. Darwin’s obtains its ingredients directly from farmers and ranchers on a just-in-time basis, immediately grinds and freezes the meals, and ships them directly to our customers’ homes, so that they arrive within 2-4 weeks of harvest. You can visually see the difference! Our meals have the natural color and retain the fresh smell of the ingredients. Store-bought frozen foods are often brown or gray, signs that some of the fats have oxidized (gone rancid) from long-term storage and/or improper handling.
Home Delivered - Better than HomemadeWhile nothing beats the freshness of homemade meals, the fact is that most pet owners are unwilling or unable to make their pet’s food on a consistent basis. For those that do attempt it run the risk of providing incomplete or unbalanced nutrition to their pet unless they are extremely careful and conscientious. When you recommend Darwin’s meals, you are offering your clients the best of both worlds-the quality and consistency of a professionally formulated and manufactured meal, without sacrificing any freshness. Because Darwin’s home-delivered meals are more convenient and affordable than store-bought when you recommend Darwin’s you have a better chance of getting your clients to see for themselves the benefits of feeding real food to their pets.