Have you ever opened a can of cat or dog food and wondered just what it is made of? It certainly looks more appetizing than dry food, but are those meaty chunks really made with meaty chunks, and what kind of meat are those chunks made from, anyway? Here are some of the basics that go into the making a wet pet food product.
First, the Forming of the Chunks
We know what meat looks like; we see it all the time in the meat section of the grocery store. But these are the cuts people actually want, the parts of the animal that people consider flavorsome. The rest of the meat -- the offal, the parts we do not want -- is set aside for other purposes. These parts generally include the head, feet, kidney, heart, liver, stomach, and intestine. Most pet food companies use a combination of these meat byproducts, since they are still considered rich sources of protein.
These parts and organs are chilled or frozen at the source and then transported to the food production site, where the parts are broken down into bite-size chunks using grinders and knives. A finer grind may be used for some recipes when a different texture is wanted. Using this method, the material is mashed or emulsified. Chunky bits may also be made using texturized vegetable protein, which is a commonly used method for making vegetarian versions of meat-like products for humans.
Holding it All Together: The Gravy
The second important part in making wet pet food is the gravy solution that holds it all together. Using gels and thickeners to add consistency and texture to the food, the gravy is created following a specific formula. The mashed or preformed chunks, along with any other ingredients that may have been added at this point, such as grains (wheat, corn), minerals and vitamins, are mixed together thoroughly with the gravy or gel, all the while being slowly heated so that the ingredients are cooked. Once this process has finished, the food is pumped into cans or pouches. The food containers are now sealed and sent to the next phase of production.
The Finishing Touch: Sterilization
Unlike dry foods, very little preservative is added to wet foods. This means that the most important part of creating a wet pet food product is the sterilization process. Once the containers are filled and sealed, they are placed in a heat sterilization device for canned foods called a retort, which brings the pressure and temperature of the containers to a carefully specified level designed to both kill bacteria and pressure seal the can so that spoilage before use may be prevented. This process is effective at killing potentially harmful bacteria or molds in the products so they can safely sit on the store shelf until they are purchased and opened.
Image source: Sunfox / via Flickr