With the increasingly frequent reports of Salmonella in pet food and other bacteria all over the news, pet owners should take a few precautions to keep all members of their family safe:
- Wash your pet’s bowls EVERY DAY! Large amounts of bacteria lurk in food and water bowls. The bacteria from your pet’s mouth (and from the hind end where they HAVE been licking…yuck!) will remain in your pet’s bowl after mealtime. If left unwashed, these bowls will be teeming with bacteria in no time. Not only does this pose a risk to your pet but also to you or any member of your family (think toddlers here!) who might reach in and touch the surfaces of the bowl. Don’t forget to wash the scoop you use to dispense food too! Use hot soapy water and wash these items in a utility sink or a sink other than the kitchen sink.
- WASH YOUR HANDS before and after touching your pet’s bowls, their food or any treats or vitamins. Pet products do pose a possible infection risk to people—especially youngsters. Every year people are infected with salmonella as a result of coming into contact with dog and cat food.
- Store dry food properly. Dry food should be kept in a cool, dry place in an airtight container. A bag of dry pet food should not be kept open for more than 30 days to minimize the risk of bacterial contamination. Wash your hands before feeding your pet to prevent bacteria from your hands from contaminating the bag. Before feeding, always smell and visually inspect the food—if something smells or looks “off”—do not feed it and return it to the store where it was purchased. Remember to save the original food packaging that includes the product code and date in the event of a food recall.
- Handle canned food correctly. Place canned food into a clean airtight container after it has been opened. Most canned food can be refrigerated safely for up to 3 days. Always use a clean spoon for serving and NEVER put the spoon back into the container after it has been in your pet’s bowl to prevent the spread of bacteria.
- Avoid certain high-risk treats. Don’t purchase pet treats from large bulk-bin containers at the pet store. Instead purchase individually packaged treats to keep bacterial contamination to a minimum. Pet treats made from dried animal parts (like pig ears, bully sticks, cow hooves, beef knuckles and other bones) should be avoided as they have been documented to be frequently contaminated with salmonella.
- Understand the possible issues if you feed raw foods to your pet. It is unavoidable….there is a risk of food-borne illness when feeding raw foods to pets. Several studies have documented that commercial and home-prepared raw foods may contain disease-causing bacteria. While most healthy pets never become ill when eating these diets, they pose a potential risk to humans and other animals in their environment due to shedding of disease-causing bacteria. The risk is greatest to young, old and immunocompromised people or pets so a pet owner must consider the safety of all members of their family when feeding raw foods. If feeding a commercial raw food diet, it is advisable to research the manufacturer of the product and the safety practices of everyone involved in the handling of the product (distributors, trucking companies, retailers, etc.) to minimize the potential threat of food-borne illness.
- Practice safe food handling if you home-cook or use raw foods for your pet. The FDA has a really useful four-step guide to help you stay safe while creating nutritious meals for yourself and your pet: http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm255180.htm.
- Stay updated on all pet food and treat recalls. A great website to stay current on all food related information is http://foodsafety.gov/index.html.