US FDA issues warning about raw pet foods

Feeding raw (or not) has to be one of the most controversial topics in dog ownership today.  Consequently, the US Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) recent warning to owners feeding raw is likely to generate some controversy.

The FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) screened over 1,000 samples of pet food for bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses. (The illnesses are called “foodborne” because the bacteria are carried, or “borne,” in or on contaminated food.) The study showed that, compared to other types of pet food tested, raw pet food was more likely to be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria.

Raw pet foods were included in the second year of a two-year study and the samples were from commercially available raw pet foods which were purchased online and sent to six different testing laboratories.

The participating laboratories analyzed the raw pet food for harmful bacteria, including Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes.

Of the 196 raw pet food samples analyzed, 15 were positive for Salmonella and 32 were positive for L. monocytogenes (see Table 1).

Table 1: Number and type of pet food samples that tested positive for Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes (Years 1 & 2)
Type of Pet Food Sample No. samples tested No. positive for Salmonella No. positive for L. monocytogenes
 Raw pet food  196  15  32
 Dry exotic pet fooda  190  0  0
 Jerky-type treatsb  190  0  0
 Semi-moist dog foodc  120  0  0
 Semi-moist cat foodc  120  0  0
 Dry dog foodd  120  0  0
 Dry cat foodd  120  1  0
a Non-cat and non-dog food, such as dry pellets for hamsters, gerbils, rabbits, amphibians, and birds.
b Included chicken jerky and pig ear-type products.
c Typically packaged in pouches for retail sale, such as (1) pouched dog and cat food; and
(2) food treats shaped like bacon, fish, pork chops, and burgers.
d Included pellet- or kibble-type food typically packaged in bags for retail sale.Note: CVM did not collect or test canned and wet pet food samples in this study.

The FDA has gone as far as warning owners against raw feeding, but in an acknowledgement that this type of diet is the preference for many owners, they also provided these tips to prevent Salmonella and Listeria infections:

  • Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water (for at least 20 seconds) after handling raw pet food, and after touching surfaces or objects that have come in contact with the raw food. Potential contaminated surfaces include countertops and the inside of refrigerators and microwaves. Potential contaminated objects include kitchen utensils, feeding bowls, and cutting boards.
  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect all surfaces and objects that come in contact with raw pet food. First wash with hot soapy water and then follow with a disinfectant. A solution of 1 tablespoon bleach to 1 quart (4 cups) water is an effective disinfectant. For a larger supply of the disinfectant solution, add ¼ cup bleach to 1 gallon (16 cups) water. You can also run items through the dishwasher after each use to clean and disinfect them.
  • Freeze raw meat and poultry products until you are ready to use them, and thaw them in your refrigerator or microwave, not on your countertop or in your sink.
  • Carefully handle raw and frozen meat and poultry products. Don’t rinse raw meat, poultry, fish, and seafood. Bacteria in the raw juices can splash and spread to other food and surfaces.
  • Keep raw food separate from other food.
  • Immediately cover and refrigerate what your pet doesn’t eat, or throw the leftovers out safely.
  • If you’re using raw ingredients to make your own cooked pet food, be sure to cook all food to a proper internal temperature as measured by a food thermometer. Thorough cooking kills Salmonella, L. monocytogenes, and other harmful foodborne bacteria.
  • Don’t kiss your pet around its mouth, and don’t let your pet lick your face. This is especially important after your pet has just finished eating raw food.
  • Thoroughly wash your hands after touching or being licked by your pet. If your pet gives you a “kiss,” be sure to also wash your face.

In my practice, I have clients that feed all types of diet (commercial, raw, homemade).  I have seen raw food diets implemented successfully with some dogs, and others who fail to thrive on them for a variety of reasons.  That’s why I am a proponent of the food therapy approach, which can successfully be implemented with all types of diet.

For my clients here in New Zealand, I’d like to emphasize that the food hygiene suggestions by the FDA do make sense.  According to our Ministry of Primary Industries, Salmonella is the second most common bacterial cause of foodborne disease in this country (campylobacter is the first).  Incidents of Listeria are rare, but some people like pregnant woman are particularly vulnerable to the disease.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

Source:  US Food & Drug Administration

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One response to “US FDA issues warning about raw pet foods

  1. I feed my dogs raw meat but not raw pet food – if it’s not fit for Human consumption, I won’t give it to my dogs.

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