FDA seeks injunction against South Jersey firm that makes tiger food

CAMDEN – A South Jersey firm that makes raw animal food for lions and tigers boasts of ingredients that include "pure muscle meat from horses and other herbivores."

But products from Bravo Packing Inc. have repeatedly tested positive for dangerous contaminants, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA wants a court order to halt production at the Carneys Point company, asserting it has "an extensive history of manufacturing raw animal food products under grossly insanitary conditions."

A filing in Camden federal court also notes “multiple instances” of Bravo samples being found to contain salmonella, a bacteria described as a “health risk to both animals and humans who handle the food and care for the animals."

It also alleges the firm's Golfwood Road facility held a years-long "resident strain" of a potentially dangerous bacteria, Listeria monocytogenes, or L. mono.

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Bravo makes raw food for big cats, including panthers, and for dogs, according a Justice Department complaint on behalf of the FDA.

In sometimes-queasy detail, it alleges multiple shortcomings at Bravo's plant, which slaughters cows for the production of frozen raw animal food.

The filing cites “pools of bloody water” and roaming cats in food-processing areas, as well as open barrels of deboned meat “beneath a metal beam and brackets covered with flaking rust.”

"FDA investigators also observed employees dragging barrels containing raw ingredients across the blood-soaked floors in the raw ingredient cooler," it observes.

Then there’s the mixer used to produce raw dog food.

The filing describes that device, which purportedly was not cleaned before its use, as holding "an unknown substance of pooled black liquid and white fat-like deposits along the bottom of its basin."

A Bravo representative cdeclined to comment Monday..

The firm’s website says it has specialized “in manufacturing exotic carnivore diets since 1960.”

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration is seeking a court order that would close Bravo Packing, a South Jersey firm that makes animal food for tigers and other big cats, until the business addresses food-safety issues.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration is seeking a court order that would close Bravo Packing, a South Jersey firm that makes animal food for tigers and other big cats, until the business addresses food-safety issues.

Products include ground beef and horsemeat, as well as raw bones from horses and cattle, according to Bravo's website.

It also notes the availability of "beef tails" and "pieces of hide for tigers to keep occupied and play with."

The website asserts Bravo "has always enjoyed a reputation for having quality products and satisfied customers."

But the court filing says FDA inspectors found "continuing violative conduct" at Bravo's plants during inspections from July 2019 to May 2021.

It notes an April 2021 inspection came in response to a consumer complaint, when a nonprofit group, Animal Outlook, tested a Bravo product obtained from a retailer in California "and discovered salmonella in the sample through private laboratory testing."

Animal Outlook tested the Bravo product due to suspicions raised by the firm's "long history of insanitary conditions and FDA scrutiny for food safety issues," said Will Lowrey, an attorney for the organization.

"We're grateful that the FDA has taken this matter seriously and decided to act decisively," he said Tuesday.

Lowrey also expressed concern over the treatment of cows and horses slaughtered to produce Bravo's products.

"It is this combination of food safety and animal welfare concerns that makes Bravo Packing such a troubling business and one that we hope local and federal authorities will address," he said.

The FDA's April 2021 inspection found salmonella in two of three food samples collected during the inspection. It found L. mono in three of three food samples.

According to the filing, testing showed the DNA fingerprint for the L. mono found in April 2021 matched that of bacteria found at the plant in July 2019.

It contends that "evidence" shows Bravo failed to maintain a clean facility and “created an ideal environment for dangerous pathogens to contaminate their raw animal food products."

A follow-up inspection in May 2021 determined Bravo had not met a commitment to address its problems, says the 17-page complaint.

The March 15 filing says Bravo is aware of the danger of product contamination. It points out the company has conducted multiple product recalls in recent years "following the findings of salmonella."

Among those actions, Bravo in March 2021 recalled two-pound packages of its Performance Dog raw pet food after the FDA found salmonella and L. mono in an inspection sample.

Bravo expanded the recall days later to include all pet food products "due to potential cross-contamination," the FDA said at that time. The broader recall included items made from ground bovine stomachs and 14 varieties of bones.

The complaint also notes Bravo's animal foods are not intended to be cooked by the customers, a process that would normally destroy pathogens.

It contends Bravo has failed to correct conditions "that have led directly to the salmonella contamination in their finished products."

The complaint seeks an injunction that would halt production at Bravo’s plant until the company can meet the FDA’s standards.

The court action marks the latest escalation in the FDA’s effort to address concerns over Bravo’s operations.

The agency issued a six-page warning letter to Bravo in March 2020 and presented notices of alleged violations after its inspections in 2019 and 2021.

The complaint also asks a judge to authorize the FDA to inspect Bravo’s plant and its records, and for the company to bear the costs of the regulator’s increased scrutiny.

And it demands that Bravo be billed for the cost of the FDA’s court action.

The complaint names the company, its owner Joseph Merola and president Amanda Lloyd as defendants.

Among other points, it says Merola, a tobacco chewer, was seen in a May 2021 inspection "repeatedly spitting on the floor of the food processing area, a practice he had committed to ending” one month earlier.

Jim Walsh covers public safety, economic development and other beats for the Courier-Post, Burlington County Times and The Daily Journal.

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This article originally appeared on Cherry Hill Courier-Post: FDA says Bravo Packing products have tested positive for salmonella