Keeping Pet Food Safe

08/18/2014

As you are probably aware, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for protecting and promoting public health through the regulation and supervision of food safety, prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, vaccines, and blood transfusions, to name a few. But did you know the FDA also regulates dog and cat food? 

According to the FDA website, The FDA’s regulation of pet food is similar to that for other animal foods. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) requires that all animal foods, like human foods, be safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, contain no harmful substances, and be truthfully labeled. In addition, canned pet foods must be processed in conformance with the low acid canned food regulations to ensure the pet food is free of viable microorganisms.

Between 2006 – 2008 and in the spring of 2012 there were multiple cases of Salmonella poisoning reported in humans due to contaminated pet food.  Salmonellosis is an infection with bacteria called Salmonella. According to the Center for Disease Control website, most persons infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most persons recover without treatment.  People with compromised immune systems are at higher risk of infection is exposed to Salmonella and may need medical intervention to recover.

Dogs infected with salmonellosis present symptoms similar to humans. They may become lethargic and are at risk for dehydration because of vomiting and diarrhea. It is important to seek veterinary care if you suspect your dog has eaten contaminated product. In addition to commercial pet food, dogs can also contract salmonellosis from eating raw meat or eggs, garbage, and dead animals or birds. Salmonellosis is typically not fatal to dogs and they usually recover after veterinary care. 

In an effort to better understand the prevalence of Salmonella in pet food and to ensure commercially produced food is safe for dogs and cats, the FDA recently launched a study to collect and analyze samples of pet food, pet treats and pet nutritional supplements for Salmonella. At this time, the study does not include canned pet foods.

The study aims to collect samples from a wide array of manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, and retailers. The study will be used to determine the serotype, genetic fingerprint, and antimicrobial susceptibilities of each isolate of Salmonella found in samples and will help facilitate the removal of Salmonella-tainted foods from interstate commerce.

According to a FAQ, Dry Pet Food and Salmonella, published by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), because dry pet food contains animal-origin products, it is at risk for Salmonella contamination. While these foods are typically cooked at temperatures high enough to kill any bacteria, if a contaminated additive such as a flavoring is added to the food after cooking, or if the food comes into contact with contaminated materials, the pet food will be contaminated. There are many safeguards in place to minimize the risk of contamination during manufacturing, but it is still best to use caution when handling pet food.

The AVMA recommends the following safeguards when handling pet foods:

  • Washing hands thoroughly after handling any pet food or treat and especially before preparing, serving or eating food, drinks, or preparing baby bottles.
  • Children should not be allowed to handle pet food; or, if they are allowed to handle pet food or treats, make sure they thoroughly wash their hands (under direct adult supervision) afterward.

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