salmonella & food safety
A RECENT REPORT HAS CAUSED SOME CONCERN...
A 2011 report in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association1 describes how Salmonella is spread, gives the history of outbreaks associated with pet food, and offers tips for minimising risk of infection for pets and families. The stated intent of the report is summarised as follows:
There have been several, recent recalls of commercial pet foods in the US. because of Salmonella contamination. Contamination creates a risk that pets can become carriers of Salmonella, or clinically ill, as can pet owners handling the food.
The first tip offered by the report is: Do not feed a raw diet to your pet. This is despite the fact that the recalls mentioned have been related to commercial processed foods and biscuits. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) released a position statement on the safety of raw feeding in 2012. You can read an analysis of the article here.
Salmonella infection is a common concern among pet owners who are thinking of switching to a raw diet. And there is a risk of infection from raw food, just as there is a risk from processed food, and food in the human food chain. The veterinary profession has an opportunity to support pet owners by spreading helpful information about reducing the risks from all food sources.
HOW COMMON IS SALMONELLA INFECTION?
Many dogs and cats naturally carry Salmonella (mostly Salmonella typhimurium) in their digestive tracts. The report states that studies have found a 1-15% prevalence of Salmonella in the faeces of healthy dogs, and 1-18% in healthy cats.
According to the report, Salmonella is the most common food-borne bacteria. Around 1.4 million people in the U.S. contract Salmonella infections each year. About 1,000 of these die. About half of all Salmonella infections are from restaurants; and are often traced to infected, but asymptomatic, food handlers. Many of us have Salmonella infections and feel no ill effects. Meat, poultry, eggs, milk, fruits and vegetables can be contaminated with Salmonella. Processed foods can be easily infected in a contaminated plant. Recent food recalls for Salmonella have involved nuts, chocolate bars, peppers, and peanut butter.
SALMONELLA INFECTION DOES NOT ALWAYS CAUSE ILL-HEALTH. MANY ‘CARRIERS’ OF SALMONELLA SHOW NO SYMPTOMS OF DISEASE.
WHAT IS THE RISK TO HUMANS FROM PET FOOD?
In America in 2006, 79 people are reported to have contracted Salmonella from handling commercial pet food. Mars Petcare recalled over 20,000 tons of contaminated dry dog and cat food crossing 105 different brands. Recent Salmonella contaminations have also resulted in the recall of a range of dog treats. These recalls were all in processed foods, not raw (although with the growing popularity of raw, we can expect to start seeing recalls for raw food too).
WILL YOUR PET GET SICK FROM SALMONELLA INFECTION?
Healthy animals can deal with large amounts of bacteria – the types they would encounter eating wild prey. Stomach acid, bile, and gut microbes control pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria. A raw-fed carnivore’s stomach is highly acidic - there aren't many organisms that can survive it. Dogs and cats produce lots of bile, which is both anti-parasitic and anti-pathogenic. Whether or not a pet develops disease from Salmonella depends on various factors:
"Factors that increase the likelihood of clinical disease from Salmonella include the age of the animal, poor nutrition, the presence of cancer or neoplasia, and other concurrent diseases and stress, as well as the administration of antibiotics, chemotherapy or glucocorticoids." (Rhea V. Morgan, DVM)
food safety tips
- Freeze fresh meat for at least three days before feeding to your pet. Raw Essentials products are frozen for at least ten days before they are sold.
- Defrost in a sealed container in the refrigerator overnight.
- Use safe food handling techniques. Clean all surfaces, equipment and hands with warm soapy water after each use. Do not allow pets on countertops.
- Discard any uneaten raw food that your pet leaves after the meal (there is usually nothing left to discard - if there is, you may be feeding too much).
- Keep your pet’s digestive system & gut flora in optimal condition... This will protect them from ill-health in general, as well as from disease caused by Salmonella infection. Use a good probiotic if your pet has had a recent course of antibiotics, or suffers from ill-health.
- Minimise stress on the digestive system by avoiding mixed-feeding.
The risk of disease caused by Salmonella can be controlled by the following:
- A healthy dog or cat,
- ...on a carefully planned and well sourced, species-appropriate raw food diet,
- ...combined with sensible meat hygiene practises in the home.
If these points are adhered to, then humans are at significantly greater risk of a problem if they eat in restaurants.
1 Update on Salmonella spp contamination of pet food, treats, and nutritional products and safe feeding recommendations. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, June 1, 2011; Vol. 238; No.11; 1430-1434