JUL 07, 2015 7:19 PM PDT

How to Keep You and Your Pets Safe From Foodborne Illness

WRITTEN BY: Sarah Hertrich
Did you know that your precious pet could be harboring a bacteria that could potentially be harmful to you and your family? Pet food and treats can contain Salmonella, and pets that eat contaminated food can appear healthy even while carrying the bacteria. While there are many benefits of owning a pet, and many of us consider them a very important member of our households, we must take basic precautions to protect our families, including our pets, from harm.
Small children, the elderly and immunocompromised individuals are especially susceptible to bacteria that might be present in your pet's food.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network (Vet-LIRN) are working on ways that the incidence of foodborne illness associated with pet foods and treats can be decreased. Some of the questions they are trying to answer include: How often does pet food make a cat or dog sick? Can your pet carry pathogens without showing symptoms and for how long? What can consumers do to keep their families safe?

In an ongoing study being conducted by the FDA, stool samples from 100 dogs and cats displaying signs or symptoms of salmonellosis as well as 100 dogs or cats not displaying symptoms were collected. Surveys were also distributed to the pet owners participating in the study to collect information including recent signs of illness in pets, diet, visits to the dog park, and use of medication. Approximately 3,000 animals were used in this study from across the country. The study is still ongoing and is expected to be completed in 2016.

One important finding of the study was that of all the animals that tested positive for Salmonella, only half showed symptoms. This bacteria can be spread to humans through contact with the animal or by contact with the contaminated animal food. Another interesting finding was that, animals whose stool samples tested positive for Salmonella were more likely to have consumed raw pet food. Raw pet food is that which has not been properly treated or processed, such as with heat, to kill harmful microorganisms. Over the next year, the FDA plans to sample raw pet food to determine the safety of these products.

To avoid spreading bacteria that can be found in pet food, the FDA recommends to avoid purchasing pet food in dented cans or with damaged packaging. Feed pets in a location and with containers than can be easily sanitized. Disinfect counter tops or other surfaces that have come into contact with pet food. Keep utensils that are used for pet food separate from those used for human food. Wash hands thoroughly after handing pet food or treats. Keep dry food stored in a cool dry place and always save containers. Check with the FDA's list of recalled products if you suspect contamination.

Sources: US Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
About the Author
Doctorate (PhD)
I am a postdoctoral researcher with interests in pre-harvest microbial food safety, nonthermal food processing technologies, zoonotic pathogens, and plant-microbe interactions. My current research projects involve the optimization of novel food processing technologies to reduce the number of foodborne pathogens on fresh produce. I am a food geek!
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