Recent media reports have focused on the Salmonella-related recall of a number of pet food products, and a manuscript recently published in the journal Pediatrics (Behravesh CB, Ferraro A, Deasy M, et al. Human Salmonella infections linked to contaminated dry dog and cat food, 2006-2008. Pediatrics 2010; 126: 477-483. Abstract available at http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/peds.2009-3273v1) reported on 79 cases of human Salmonella infection from 2006-2008 associated with contaminated dry dog and cat food – this is the first report of human illnesses linked to dry pet foods.
Below are some basic talking points to answer the questions we’ve received about this issue. More information is also available on the AVMA website at www.avma.org.
The apparent rise in pet food recalls due to Salmonella is likely due to several reasons:
- The large-scale, melamine-related pet food recall of 2007 increased public and media awareness of and sensitivity to pet food safety concerns.
- Increased vigilance of the manufacturers and the federal government regarding Salmonella and other public health concerns, leading to increased surveillance and reporting.
- The recent launch of an early detection reporting system – the Reportable Food Registry – that requires and allows immediate reporting of safety problems with food and animal feed (including pet food), instead of relying on inspection to identify problems. According to a July 2010 FDA press release, the registry has been very successful in identifying at-risk foods.
These recalls are not an indication that pet foods are unsafe. Considering that the majority of these recalls have been precautionary and no illnesses have been reported, these recalls may indicate that they are preventing illness by catching the problems earlier.
Because pet foods and treats contain animal-origin products, they are at risk of contamination with Salmonella, E. coli, and other organisms. In general, these products are cooked to temperatures that will kill these organisms – however, if a contaminated additive (a flavoring, for example) is added to the food after cooking or if the food comes in contact with contaminated materials, the food will be contaminated. There are many safeguards in place to minimize the risk of contamination during the manufacturing process, but using caution when handling these foods is always recommended.
To protect themselves, their families and their pets from Salmonella infection, common sense measures are critical. These measures are particularly important if you feed your pet raw foods of animal origin (eg, raw beef, chicken or eggs), including raw treats such as raw hides and pig ear chews.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after handling any pet food or treats
- Don’t allow your children to handle the food; or, if you choose to let them handle the pet food or treats, make sure they thoroughly wash their hands (under your direct supervision) afterwards.
- Do not allow immunocompromised, very young, or elderly people to handle pet food and treats; or, if they handle the products, they should thoroughly wash their hands immediately after handling the products.
- Keep all pet foods and treats away from your family’s food.
- Do not prepare pet foods in the same area or with the same equipment/utensils you use to prepare human foods.
- Do not allow pets on countertops or other areas where human food is prepared.
- In the Pediatrics manuscript, feeding pets in the kitchen was identified as an important source of infection. If it is possible for you to feed your pet in an area other than your kitchen, you may wish to consider doing so. If it is not an option, or if you choose to feed your pet in the kitchen, feed your pet as far away from human food preparation areas as possible and follow the other guidelines above.