I write a lot on this blog about the nutritional aspects of pet food. After all, Husse is a pet food company.
But how your pet’s food is manufactured can have an impact on its nutritional value. The process is not complex and it doesn’t vary too much from company to company. But there are some little nuances that can have an effect on taste, shelf life and overall quality.
The process obviously differs depending on whether the food is dry, semi-moist or canned.
Let’s talk about dry food first.
Dry food production process
There are many ways to make kibble but the most common method is extrusion. It’s a process that was created to manufacture breakfast cereal in the 1950s.
There are several steps in the process that are the same from one company to the next. But some of the steps in Husse’s process differ.
And that starts with government guidelines and oversight.
Regardless of the food you choose, every brand of pet food sold in the US has to meet the guidelines of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), in addition to the requirements of the USDA and the FDA. AAFCO guidelines require that the ingredients meet all of a pet’s nutritional needs.
Husse also has to meet the requirements of l’Agence Federale pour la Securite de la Chaine Alimentaire (AFSCA – the Federal Agency for Food Chain Security in Sweden), in addition to the requirements of the USDA, FDA and AAFCO.
Regardless of the company it all starts with the raw materials. There are dry ingredients (chicken meal, beef meal, wheat, corn, rice, etc.) and wet ingredients (fat).
The raw materials are delivered to Husse by truckload and stored in large bins (dry) and tanks (liquid). Special ingredients like vitamins and minerals are delivered in bags.
The ingredients in Husse products come from animals that are considered suitable for human consumption. Only the best quality meat meal and protein with high biological value are used in Husse’s food.
When the raw materials get to Husse a sample is taken and tested to be sure quality meets their standard.
Mixing and grinding the ingredients
At this point, Husse will use a computerized system to determine the correct amounts of each ingredient based on the food they’re making at that time. The right ingredients in the correct proportions are combined. Then that mixture will go to a hammer mill where it will be ground.
All manufacturers grind their ingredients and most will use a commercial hammer mill. The consistency, usually like course flour, is really important. It ensures a smooth kibble surface and good kibble shape. It’s also important in the cooking process and for water absorption.
After grinding, Husse will mix the meal again to ensure that all ingredients are equally distributed and every bag of the end product will be of the same quality.
Preconditioning and extrusion
The dry ingredients and the wet ingredients come together in a mixer and they become a moist dough. Then the dough moves into the preconditioner (illustration below) where the dough is heated to more than 200 degrees.
This causes the starch in the dough to gelatinize. It becomes more soluble so that it can absorb more water and be more easily digested.
Starch is the ingredient in most dry foods that binds the final product together and forms kibble. But starch can be hard to digest so preconditioning is crucial.
Then the cooking phase begins in the extruder. The dough is cooked under high pressure and intense heat as it moves towards the open end of the extruder.
During this step in the process, any potentially difficult to digest ingredients expand under high temperature and pressure, and become easier for your pet to absorb.
At the end of the extruder, the hot dough passes through a shaping die and is cut into kibbles.
At Husse, the goal is to sell a consistent high quality pet food. So the operators of the equipment take a sample every hour to test the density, moisture content, and size of the kibbles to be sure it meets their high standards.
Since steam is added during the preconditioning phase, the kibbles contain a high percentage of moisture.
Kibbles travel through different levels of the batch dryer until they reach a moisture level of 10%. Mold and bacteria can’t grow at this level, which makes the food shelf stable.
Vacuum Coater and Cooling
At this point, most manufacturers will let the kibble cool and then pass it through a machine that sprays a flavor coating on the kibble. This makes it taste better and adds fat, which is very important in your pet’s diet.
Husse uses a different process. Instead of spraying the kibble, they use a vacuum coater (illustration below). It gives their food a higher percentage of fat and greater palatability than pet foods that use a sprayer.
After the kibbles cool, they go into the vacuum coater where an air pump creates a vacuum. This vacuum opens up the fine pores of the kibble, while the kibble is kept in constant motion. When the fat is sprayed, it’s evenly distributed over all the kibble.
Then the pressure is increased in the coater, which pushes the fat into the fine pores of the kibble. The fat is not only on the outside of the kibble, as it would be if it was just sprayed on, but it’s evenly distributed throughout the kibble.
The next step in the Husse process is to coat the kibbles with a smell and taste enhancer, giving it a natural animal smell.
And then the food is packaged.
Semi-moist food production process
Semi-moist food has a moisture content somewhere between canned food and dry.
Believe it or not the manufacturing process is very similar to dry food. The difference being the temperature and pressure in the extruder, which is not as high as dry food.
And instead of the food going through the drying process when it leaves the extruder, it goes into coating drums that add water and chemicals to help maintain moisture. Then it’s refrigerated to lock in the moisture content and keep its spongy texture.
Because semi-moist food has a higher moisture content than dry food, it’s more likely to spoil from mold and bacteria. It’s also more likely to dry out and fall apart. So manufacturers add mold and bacteria inhibitors to their recipes, and package the food in moisture-proof bags.
Canned food production process
As you’d expect, there’s a high level of meat product in canned food. The meat product is ground into small pieces. Vitamins, minerals, and any grains in the formula get added. And all ingredients go into a mixer where they’re blended.
In the mixer, the temperature is increased to gelatinize the starch.
While the food is still hot, it is moved into the filler/seamer machine. As the lid goes on the can, steam is blown over the top of the food so that it will be vacuum-sealed when it cools. This prevents the food from spoiling.
The cans are then sterilized, which kills all the dangerous bacteria that could enter the can like botulism. When the cans are cool, they’re ready to be labeled and sold.
Whether you choose to feed your pet a dry, semi-moist or canned food is a decision based on your pet’s nutritional needs, and in many instances convenience.
There are so many factors beyond the manufacturing process that make one food better for your pet than another. And I’ve written about many of them in this blog.
All food is not created equal…but at least now you have a pretty good idea of how it’s all made.
Do you have any thoughts about how your pet’s food is manufactured? Let us know in the comment section above.