Over on Nutrition Nuggets for Dogs today, we talked about how the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ran a study that found almost 25% of commercially available, raw pet foods were contaminated with Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes bacteria. I refer you to that post for more information about the research and the risks these bacteria pose to human and pet health. Now, I want to talk about ways to lower that risk.
Obviously, the easiest way to protect people and pets from the dangers associated with commercially available raw pet food is not to feed it. I think consumers are under the mistaken assumption that a prepackaged food bought from a store isn’t going to contain potentially disease-causing bacteria, even if it’s raw. This study clearly indicates that is not the case. If you buy, touch, and feed one of these products to your pet, you need to handle it just as you would a raw chicken carcass. Closely follow the FDA’s tips to prevent infections associated with the handling of raw pet foods, whether they are commercially prepared or homemade:
- 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.
I have never seen a study or even a clinical case that convinced me there is any benefit to feeding dogs and cats a raw diet, but some pets do seem to do better when eating home cooked foods (emphasis on the “cooked”). Consult with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist if you are interested in preparing meals for your dog or cat.
Dr. Jennifer Coates