While scrolling through your morning emails and social media feeds, you find that the manufacturer of your dog’s food has announced a recall. You realize that the recall is for just one batch of the same flavor that your dog, Petunia, eats. How do you know if your dog’s food is from the recalled batch? The lot number on the bag of food can tell you! Searching the bag, you find some numbers and letters; which ones are part of the lot number? By knowing the correct code to use, you can quickly identify whether Petunia’s food is part of a recall. Also, should you ever have a problem with your pet’s food, you’ll be able to help FDA and the pet food company more quickly trace a potential problem.
What is a Lot Number?
A lot number (also known as a “lot code”) can be a long or short string of printed numbers and letters found on pet food packaging. Though it’s not required, most companies include the lot number on their products in case there’s a problem with a specific batch of pet food.
The lot number can be found in different areas on different pet food products. Often, it's near the “Best by” or expiration date. Generally, for pet food that comes in a bag or pouch, the lot number is printed on the bottom or side of the bag or pouch or a few inches down from the top. For canned pet food, the lot number is most often printed on the bottom of the can. Sometimes, though, the lot number is printed on a strip that you may rip off when you open a bag or it’s printed on the can’s lid. It’s a good idea to find the lot number on the packaging first, before opening the food, in case the lot number gets separated from the original packaging.
Why is the Lot Number Important?
The lot number is a crucial piece of information when trying to identify if a product has been recalled or if you’re reporting a potential problem with a pet food or treat to FDA or to the company. The lot number helps identify a specific batch of pet food or treats. A single pet food company may make a pet food in several plants around the United States. The lot number identifies when the product was made and the manufacturing plant, so that problems can be quickly addressed. It also allows a pet food company to quickly pull or recall a specific batch without having to recall all batches from store shelves. FDA uses the lot number when discussing a specific product with the company, when needed.
To report a pet food complaint to FDA, you can use the Safety Reporting Portal. The Safety Reporting Portal is an online tool for reporting problems with a variety of FDA-regulated products. You can use the portal to report problems with pet food, animal food, and animal drugs. You can also use the portal to report problems with products for people, such as food, drugs, cosmetics, and vaccines. When you submit a complaint about a product through the portal, it’s helpful to include a picture of the lot number. If you are copying and typing the lot number into the portal, try your best to identify all the numbers and letters or give your best guess at what you see. For example, sometimes the letter B looks like an 8, or the letter V can look like a U. Sometimes taking a picture on your phone and zooming in can make it easier to see all the numbers and letters. If you copy most of the lot number correctly, FDA can work with the company to identify the correct plant where the product was made. Unfortunately, less than half of the reports the agency receives includes the product’s lot number.
What’s the Difference Between a Lot Number, a UPC, a “Best By” Date, and a Packing Code?
When you looked at Petunia’s bag of dog food, you realized that it has several different codes on it. It’s easy to get confused as to which code is the lot number. When in doubt, report all the codes you find on the packaging. FDA can work with the company to identify the product based on the information you provide, even if you don’t get the code completely correct. Here’s a quick breakdown of the different codes you may find on pet food packaging and where you can typically find them.
- Lot Number—This is the important code that FDA needs when you report a problem. It identifies a specific batch of product made by a specific company at a specific factory. The lot number doesn’t have a set number of characters and isn’t located in a certain spot on the package. You may have to search the entire package to find it.
- UPC—Universal Product Code (or “bar code”)—The UPC is a combination of black bars and numbers found in a small rectangle-shaped box on a product. This is the code that the cashier scans when you’re in the grocery checkout line. Although the UPC code identifies the company and the product, it doesn’t show which plant made the product. Companies aren’t required to put UPCs on pet food packages.
"Best By,” “Use By,” “Use Before,” or “Sell By” Dates—Each of these dates, determined by the company, indicates when a product’s quality starts to decrease. For example, the product’s flavor or color may degrade after these dates. Some pet food companies may use these dates, in conjunction with lot numbers, to help identify product batches.
Packing Code—The packing code is a series of letters and numbers printed on a can. This code helps the company track the product as it’s shipped out of state and it’s useful for finding products during a recall. The date and time found in some packing codes tell you when the product was made, not the product’s “best-by” date.
Tips to Keep Track of Your Pet Food Lot Numbers
Chances are that Petunia won’t have another problem with her pet food. With more than 135 million pets in the U.S., pet food recalls are relatively rare, considering the volume of food produced and the number of animals fed. Even so, it’s a good idea to keep all the codes on Petunia's food somewhere handy, just in case. Here are some easy ways you can do that:
- Keep the food in its original package
By keeping food in its original package, you keep the lot number and other information nearby. If you need to put the food into a different container, keep the food in the original package and then put it into the other container.
- Put the food in a different container but cut out the lot number and tape it somewhere on the container
Anytime you put your pet’s food into a different container, remember to cut out the lot number along with the other information and tape it somewhere on the container, even if you mix different pet food brands in the same container.
- Cut out the lot number and put it in an easy-to-remember place
Taping product codes to a container may look messy. One way to keep the container less messy-looking is to cut out the lot number and the other information and put it somewhere you can easily find, like sticking it on your refrigerator or taping it to the inside of a kitchen cabinet door.
- Take a picture with your cell phone
This is the least messy idea—take a dated picture with your cell phone! You’ll have it wherever you are and you’ll be able to access it quickly.
Save Your Lot Numbers!
The lot number is one of the most important pieces of information on a pet food package. If you have a problem with the food, the lot number is an important clue that helps the company quickly identify the product and where and when it was made. When you send FDA a report about your pet food complaint—complete with the lot number and any of the other codes on the packaging—you help the agency monitor the safety of pet food and treats sold in the U.S. Your pet food complaint also helps FDA quickly identify and respond to any problems.
For more information about how to report a pet food problem, visit our “How to Report a Pet Food Complaint” webpage. Remember, you can also report pet food problems to the company that made the product. The company’s contact information is usually located on the back of the bag or the back of the can’s label, near the list of ingredients.