Human-Grade Dog Food 

human-grade dog food

What does “human-grade dog food” mean exactly? Does it mean the ingredients are high quality and human edible, or is it just a marketing term that means nothing? After all, pet food makers are all jockeying for our dog food dollars. So let’s take a look at what human-grade means and whether the term is regulated. 

What is Human-Grade Dog Food? 

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) oversees pet food labeling and regulations. They determine how pet foods can be labelled and what claims can be stated about the food. According to AAFCO, human-grade “has no definition in any animal feed regulations.”

But that doesn’t mean there’s no way to  determine high quality ingredients that we might eat from the low quality ingredients and waste products that often find their way into pet foods. The USDA does offer a way to tell if dog food ingredients are really human-grade. 

Edible Vs Inedible 

Inspecting human foods for quality and safety falls under the  United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). While the USDA also doesn’t use the term human-grade, they do define products that are fit for human consumption as “edible.” 

While many pet food ingredients can be rotting carcasses and waste products, all “edible foods” must follow federal (FDA) regulations for safe manufacturing, packing and storage. But pet food makers always find a way around regulations and they found a way to make “inedible” foods sound like they’re better than they are. 

For example, you might find a human-grade dog food that says “sourced from a USDA inspected facility.” However, all most foods go through a USDA inspected facility: it’s how they come out that matters. While edible food is handled and stored safely and finds its way to the human food market, the adulterated decaying, discarded waste is sold to pet food companies. AAFCO allows and even encourages these “inedible”  ingredients in pet foods, including “hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents.” 

AAFCO Guidelines For Human-Grade Claims

Because of the confusion to the consumer, AAFCO is now offering some guidelines for companies wanting to make human-grade claims: 

  • The product as a whole must be fit for human consumption. Claims cannot apply to individual ingredients if the finished product is not human-grade.
  • Manufacturers must have documentation for safe storage, handling and processing processes. 
  • The manufacturing facility must have a license to produce human food.
  • The food must hold a clear label for its intended use (eg, dog food).”

To avoid false claims, pet food companies will add restrictions to their human-grade statements. For example, they may say, “sourced from a USDA inspected facility.” But this doesn’t mean the ingredients are edible, nor does it mean they are clean and safe. 

If a manufacturer meets these guidelines, they can call their food “human-grade dog food”. However AAFCO claims that these criteria are hardly ever completed by pet food companies as this would make the food too expensive for consumers. AAFCO also doesn’t enforce the guidelines.

Note: AAFCO is in the process of developing an official definition for human-grade foods. This is expected to be published some time in 2023 after it goes through AAFCO’s formal approval process.

Who Is Involved In Human-Grade Dog Food Claims? 

There are a few organizations at play when it comes to pet food standards & regulations. So it can get a little confusing. Let’s clarify who does what in the pet food world.

The FDA 

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the federal agency responsible for regulating pet foods. The FDA “writes regulations and guidelines for animal feed manufacturers to follow when making animal feed.” The FDA also helps to regulate pet food labels. They ensure labels include information such as the name and location of the manufacturer. Ingredient listing in descending order is also something they watch.


USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) handles inspections of meat, poultry and eggs in the human food chain. If you want “human grade” meat, it must come from the human food chain. Meaning the brand that uses inspected & passed meat from a USDA inspection.


The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a private corporation. Despite what many people think, AAFCO does not regulate pet food or ingredients (that’s the FDA’s job). But, it creates a model bills that many states follow. Its committee members include representatives from major feed manufacturers and ingredient suppliers. Including Nestle Purina, Hills Pet Nutrition, Nutro Products and Cargill Animal Nutrition. 


Human-Grade And Feed-Grade Foods 

Most pet food falls into the “feed-grade” category. According to AAFCO, feed-grade is “material that has been determined to be safe, functional and suitable for its intended use in animal food… unless otherwise expressly permitted by the appropriate state or federal agency (suitable for use in animal feed).”

Since it’s such a vague definition, there are some nasty things allowed in feed-grade pet food ingredients. This can include rendered meat and bone meals that include grease, blood, feathers, offal, & entire animal carcasses. Rendering plants can source the animal material from a variety of places, including:

  • Supermarket waste (often with the plastic still on)
  • Restaurants (including discarded grease)
  • Feedlots
  • Animal shelters (deceased animals) 

Fast food cast-offs and deceased shelter animals are certainly low quality ingredients, while rendering these products at high temperatures also create toxic heterocyclic amines and acrylamide to accumulate in the food. Both are cancer-causing compounds that form when meats and starches are exposed to high temperatures.

RELATED: Meat In Pet Foods: Is It Really Meat?

What Dog Foods Are Human-Grade? 

If you don’t want to fall victim to clever marketing, the best way to ensure your pet is eating human-grade dog food is to make it yourself. You can source the ingredients directly from the human food chain (i.e. your local grocery store or butcher shop).

RELATED: How To Make Your Own Dog Food …

Your other option is to support one of the brands producing human-grade dog food. Despite the rigid criteria, there are brands on the market that offer true human-grade dog foods. This list may not be complete, but it includes:

  • The Honest Kitchen 
  • Caru 
  • Evermore Pet Food 
  • Ollie 
  • Nom Nom Now (Owned by Mars) 
  • Open Farm 
  • The Farmer’s Dog 
  • Spot Farms 

Note: The brands on this list appear to be independently owned at the time of writing except where noted.

What About Human-Grade Raw?? 

You might be wondering about human-grade raw dog food. Here’s the sad news… based on AAFCO’s current guidelines for human-grade dog food, raw food doesn’t qualify. AAFCO states all ingredients must be human edible and raw meat isn’t considered human-edible without cooking. This is why we see cooked, fresh foods labeled as human grade … but not raw food. 

This certainly doesn’t mean commercially prepared raw food is bad or of lower quality: in fact, raw and raw freeze-dried foods are our top choices for quality ingredients and safety.

With that said, you’ll want to ask your raw food company (or local pet store) where their meat comes from. Many use meats and supplements from the human food chain but are not allowed to call their food human grade.

RELATED: Raw Dog Food: Homemade Vs Store-Bought …

Is Human Grade Food Better For Dogs?

Human-grade foods can be a great addition to your dog’s diet. But since there are no real standards for what human-grade food means, human-grade labeling does not inherently indicate a high quality food.

Watch for qualifiers like “sourced from” or “contains some.” Phrases like this can be a tip-off that the meat is not actually human-grade. As larger pet food companies enter the human-grade dog food market, you will need to watch closely for guideline changes.

RELATED: How Is Dog Food Made?


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