On November 25th, Price Chopper (a regional supermarket chain based in the US northeast) posted a recall notice advising its customers that two IAMS pet foods were recalled due to elevated levels of aflatoxins.

During the Thanksgiving weekend, this recall notice disappeared from the Price Chopper web site. A couple of days later, the supermarket chain posted the following statement:

“Iams has not issued a consumer recall on any products. Information which appeared here earlier referred to a few production lots which Iams has retrieved because they were outside of Iams’ specifications and did not meet their quality standards.”

When I asked IAMS for details on this recall, I received this reply:

“Thank you for taking the time to contact us. We regret the confusion. Iams has not issued a consumer recall on any of our products. We are aware the retailer posted some information which led readers to believe that Iams had issued a consumer recall. The store has since removed the information from their site.”

According to Sue Thixton (TruthAboutPetFoods.com), IAMS described their action as a “product pull” that did not require consumer notification.

Today, Procter & Gamble – owner of the IAMS brand – announced a recall of Iams ProActive Health Smart Puppy Dry Dog Food, sold in 7-lb (Code date 12784177I6), 8-lb (Code dates 12794177D2 and 12794177D3) and 17.5-lb bags (Code dates 12794177K1 and 12794177K2), due to aflatoxin levels that were above the acceptable limit. The recalled products are labeled with Use By or Expiration Dates of February 5 or February 6, 2013.

The products, according to Procter & Gamble, already have been retrieved from store shelves. They were distributed to “a limited number of retailers” in Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Maine, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia. The list of retailers includes WalmartFood City, Price Chopper, Big Y and Target.

Interestingly, the 12794177D3 code date included in today’s recall is identical to one of the code dates listed in Price Chopper’s original recall notice – and associated with a Cat Food.

Procter & Gamble hasn’t explained why this particular puppy food was worthy of recall, while the aflatoxin-contaminated cat food with the identical code date only rated a “product pull.” Was it pressure from FDA? Did Walmart – a retailer with enormous clout – “encourage” the company to issue a recall notice? Or did the public reaction to the initial recall/product pull flip-flop convince Procter & Gamble to go public? We’ll never know.

Whatever triggered the recall decision, I hope that Procter & Gamble now realizes that trying to conduct a stealth recall carries a significant risk to the company’s reputation once the recall is found out.