What is the safest way to handle pet foods?

Answer:

  • To reduce the risk of harmful bacterial contamination and food-borne illness, and to keep foods fresh, the following tips are advised for all commercially made pet foods (both cooked and raw):
    1. Buying food:
      • Purchase food from reputable manufacturers who have demonstrated a long-term commitment to safety. Contact the pet food manufacturer to find out what specific measures are used to guarantee safety and quality of the products, e.g. ingredient testing/mycotoxin screening, proper time and temperature of the cooking process, and other good manufacturing processes (GMPs). 1,2
      • Buy food (canned or bagged) in good condition. There should be no visible signs of damage to the packaging such as dents, tears, or discolorations.1,3
    2. Handling food and dishes:
      • Before handling pet food, hands should be washed for 20 seconds with hot water and soap.
      • The pet’s feeding bowl should not be used as a scooping utensil. A clean, dedicated scoop, spoon, or cup should be used instead.4,5
      • Pet food bowls, dishes, and scooping utensils should be washed with soap and hot water after each use.
      • The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) advises against washing a pet’s food and water dishes in the kitchen sink in order to prevent cross-contamination. If this is not possible, the sink should be cleaned and disinfected after washing pet food items.5
      • Hands should be washed with warm, soapy water after handling pet food since this is the best way to reduce the risk of self-contamination or passing food-borne illness onto others.6
    3. Storing food:
      • Quickly refrigerate or throw out any unused, leftover wet pet food (e.g. cans, pouches). Refrigerating foods quickly keeps most harmful bacteria from growing and multiplying. Refrigerators should be set to 40 º F. It is recommended by both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the CDC that the accuracy of the setting be checked occasionally with a refrigerator thermometer.4,5
      • Dry food should be stored in a cool, dry place (under 80º F)3,5 and in its original bag if the company does storage testing. The FDA recommends keeping the food in the original bag inside a clean, dedicated plastic container with a lid, keeping the top of the bag folded closed.3
      • If owners use a different storage container than the original bag, they should retain the bag since it contains critical information (e.g. lot number, expiration code) should there be a problem with the food that must be reported.
    4. Children and food:Children should not be allowed to touch or eat pet food, treats, or supplements. They should be kept away from pet feeding areas to prevent illness.1
  • Commercially prepared raw diets: Some clients may choose to feed commercially prepared raw diets (containing raw meat, poultry, seafood) to their pets. Special safety precautions should be considered to protect both the client and pet and to reduce the risk of food-borne illness. These include:
    1. Check the pet food label to see how the diet is prepared. If the pet food label does not indicate how the diet is prepared, the company should be contacted and asked if the raw food is high-pressure processed, freeze-dried, or has undergone any additional processes to minimize contamination.
    2. Children, pregnant women, or immune-compromised individuals should not handle raw products.
    3. Keep all non-freeze-dried raw products frozen until ready to use.3 Store freeze-dried raw foods similarly to other dry pet foods.
    4. Use a refrigerator or microwave to thaw the product.
    5. Keep raw food away from other foods.3
    6. Use kitchen sanitizers each time raw food comes in contact with cutting boards and counter tops. A sanitizing solution can be made by mixing one teaspoon of chlorine bleach to one quart of water.7
    7. If non-porous or plastic cutting boards are used, wash them in the dishwasher after each use.3
The Science Behind our Recommendations
1. Pet food and treats—tips for keeping people and pets healthy and safe from salmonella. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention website.http://www.cdc.gov/features/salmonelladrypetfood/. Accessed July 18, 2013. 2. Baldwin K, Bartges J, Buffington T, Freeman L, et al. AAHA nutritional assessment guidelines for dogs and cats. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc. 2010 Jul-Aug; 46(4): 285-96. 3. FDA tips for preventing food borne illness associated with pet food and pet treats. U.S. Food and Drug Administration website.http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/NewsEvents/CVMUpdates/ucm048030.htm. Published July 27, 2007. Update July 17, 2013. Accessed November 16, 2013. 4. Finley R, Reid-Smith R, Ribble C, Popa M, Vandermeer M, Aramini J. The occurrence and anti-microbial susceptibility of Salmonellae isolated from commercially available pig ear pet treats. Zoonoses Public Health. 2008 Oct;55(8-10):455-61 5. Freeman LM, Janecko N, Weese JS. Nutritional and microbial analysis of bully sticks and survey of opinions about pet treats. Can Vet J. 2013 Jan;54(1):50-4. 6. Think food safety. U.S. Food and Drug Administration website. http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/ResourcesforYou/AnimalHealthLiteracy/ucm278271.htm. Accessed July 18, 2013.