Is It Safe: Cat-Man-Doo Bonito Flakes

While poking about this morning looking for a candidate product for the On Sale But Is It Safe? feature, IMPS stumbled upon Cat-Man-Doo Bonito Flakes, also available as Bow-wow Bonito Though it is not on sale (but may be discounted at some e-tailers,) IMPS thought pet parents would find this an interesting product, especially after hearing our interview with the CEO/Owner of Cat-Man-Doo Inc.


What is Bonito? Bonito flakes, also known as Katsuobushi (Japanese: 鰹節), are dried shavings of skipjack tuna or young bonito.  The process to make katsuobushi involves smoking the fish for a long period of time, often a month or more.  It then is deliberately sprayed with Aspergillus glaucus fungus and left to ferment for a few more weeks which further dries the fish (bonito flakes that have not been treated with the fungus cannot be called katsuobushi).   The dried fish is then shaved to produce flakes that are used to season Japanese cooking, frequently soups.  The original fish is usually sashimi grade.

However, not all bonito flakes are made from skipjack tuna.  Manufacturers will often substitute other fish, such as bullet mackerel or bullet tuna.  From our research, even the methods used to prepare the bonito flakes can stray from that used for katsuobushi.  Rather than smoking the fish, it may first be steamed and then hung to dry for a number of days.  In some cases, it may alternate between indoor and outdoor drying.  At this point, bonito may be used more to refer to the process of preparation of a fish rather than a very specific cultural term such as katsuobushi.  IMPS are not even remotely in touch with Japanese culture or food (sushi is not on our list of items for dining out), so that is just our speculation.  

Safety Controversy

As of 2015, bonito flakes meeting the definition of katsuobushi were banned by the EU and labeled an unsafe food product.  The reasoning was two fold.  First, the process of smoking the fish can result in tar and charcoal attaching to the fish.  These result in the formation of benzopyrene, a suspected carcinogen, in levels exceeding EU limits for human consumption.  Second, the mold used in the final drying stage could, according to the EU examiners, lead to mold poisoning.

Of course, this sparked a bit of outrage and cultural backlash as, after all, the Japanese people are known to live very long lives and katsuobushi is widely used in food preparation.  More details are available at Japancrush.

Interview with Peter Stake, CEO

After reading about the EU ban, IMPS decided to call Cat-Man-Doo on the phone to ask a few questions about their product.  Though the description on their corporate website is extensive, IMPS was interested in where the fish was processed (Japan? China? Taiwan?) as well as details of the process itself (was the fish smoked? treated with mold?)

The person who answered the phone seemed exceptionally knowledgable about their bonito flakes, so much so that IMPS commented to that effect. That is when it was revealed that the person was not a run of the mill sales representative, but the CEO and founder of Cat-Man-Doo Inc., Mr. Peter Stake.

Peter explained that the bonito flakes are from fish caught in the waters off southern Japan and the drying also takes place in Japan. In the case of Cat-Man-Doo bonito flakes, the fish used is yellowtail, or Japanese amberjack.  [As yellowtail is actually of a different family than tuna and mackerel, purists may question the 'bonito' label; IMPS leaves that for others to decide.]

The fish are processed at a facility that has been in operation for over 20 generations over several hundred years.  There, the fish is dried for a period of 40 to 45 days until the moisture content is under 11% and ideally close to 8%.  Peter stated that the fish is not smoked or otherwise flavored and that no molds are used to further dry the fish. 

Transport from Japan is by shipping container.  Peter noted that the FDA rigorously inspects each shipment, pulling many samples at random and checking them for contaminants, including radiation. Cat-Man-Doo was lucky to have been between shipments at the peak of the post Fukushima Daiichi earthquake nuclear disaster and none of their products suffered any radiation exposure. Peter recounted how much more difficult inspections were in the following months as every part of the shipment, including packaging, was tested for radiation.

Following that line of thought, Peter let IMPS know that Cat Man Doo products are no longer labeled 'not for human consumption.'   For a brief time, all bags were stamped that way based upon information the company had once been given by a government inspector.  However, further research led the company to believe that no such label was required, or even necessary, as all the meats used in Cat Man Doo products are fit for human consumption and processed appropriately.  [IMPS makes no representation of the veracity of this claim, so pet parents nibble at their own risk!].

Cat-Man-Doo has experienced very rapid growth over its 11 years in business and is located in the state of Washington.  Peter started the business out of a garage and today manages the operation along with his wife Sandra.  To illustrate just how rapid the growth has been, when it started they took only small shipments of a few pounds of bonito from their supplier every few months.  Today, Cat-Man-Doo is that firm's largest customer and shipments are by 40 foot containers, multiple times a year. Clearly, kittys everywhere like this stuff!

Peter's enthusiasm was very evident throughout our call and he is excited about the company's future.

Cat-Man-Doo has been the largest blessing in my life, better than anything I could have imagined.

Though it continues to grow, Peter and Sandra intend to keep the company private so as to maintain close personal involvement in the day to day operation.  Like many other pet product companies, Peter explained his frustration at having to deal with the mega corporations that are the end point retail distributors of so many items to pet parents. Cat-Man-Doo does not want to follow that path.

Finally, expect a few new products from Cat-Man-Doo later this year.  Peter did not say what they were, but IMPS is confident each will be well thought out.

ANALYSIS/VERDICT :  A,  Based upon our conversatation with Cat-Man-Doo, IMPS believes their product to be very safe

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