The Food and Drug Administration is cautioning pet owners about feeding their animals raw diets, warning that those who do may have a higher risk of getting infected with salmonella and listeria monocytogenes.
In a new study, compared with other types of pet food tested, raw pet food was more likely to be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria, the agency said.
The new warning was issued after a two-year study, in which the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine screened more than 1,000 samples of pet food for bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses.
In the study, the center sampled 196 commercially available raw dog and cat foods. The center bought a variety of raw pet foods online from different manufacturers and had the products shipped directly to six laboratories for analysis, according to the FDA. The raw pet-food products were usually frozen in tubelike packages and made from ground meat or sausage.
Of the samples analyzed, 15 were positive for salmonella and 32 were positive for listeria.
The study “identified a potential health risk for the pets eating the raw food, and for the owners handling the product,” said Dr. Renate Reimschuessel, a researcher at the center’s Office of Research and one of the study’s principal investigators.
The FDA said the best way to prevent infection is to not feed your pet a raw diet; however, the agency is aware that some people prefer this type of food and offers tips to prevent salmonella and listeria:
• 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 microwave ovens. 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. You can also run items through a 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 or 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 out the leftovers 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 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.