“Because pet foods and treats contain animal-origin products, they are at risk of contamination with Salmonella, E. coli, and other organisms,” says Kimberly May, DVM, MS, department director of communications in the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Marketing & Communications Division. Her four-legged friends include Ladybug the mutt, Crackerjack the mule, and Ricki the Quarter Horse.
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“In general, these animal-origin products are cooked to temperatures that will kill pathogenic organisms,” Dr. May relates. “However, if a contaminated additive—a flavoring, for example—is added to the food after cooking or if the food comes in contact with contaminated materials, the food may be contaminated.”
There are many safeguards in place to minimize the risk of contamination of pet food during the manufacturing process, “but using caution when handling these foods is always recommended,” Dr. May advises.
There may seem to be more pet foods being recalled of late due to possible Salmonella contamination, Dr. May points out. “There are several potential reasons for this,” she says. “One potential reason is that the large-scale, melamine-related pet food recall of 2007 increased public and media awareness of and sensitivity to pet food safety concerns. Another potential reason is the increased vigilance of the manufacturers and the federal government regarding Salmonella and other public health concerns, leading to increased surveillance and reporting.”
A third potential reason for seemingly more pet food recalls, Dr. May says, is the existence of FDA’s Reportable Food Registry, an electronic portal established in 2010 for industry to report when there is reasonable probability that an article of food will cause serious adverse health consequences.
“This early detection reporting system requires and allows immediate reporting of safety problems with food and animal feed, including pet food, instead of relying solely on inspection to identify problems,” Dr. May elaborates. “It also facilitates prompt recognition of larger-scale problems associated with animal and pet feeds, which allows for quicker action to protect animal health and public health.”
Increased recalls are not an indication that pet foods are unsafe in general, Dr. May emphasizes. “Considering that the majority of recent recalls have been precautionary and not associated with illness in pets or people, these recalls may indicate that they are preventing illness by catching the problems earlier,” she relates.
About Linda L. Leake, MS
Linda L. Leake, doing business as Food Safety Ink, is a food safety consultant, registered SQF contract auditor, and award-winning freelance journalist based in Wilmington, N.C. Specializing in agriculture, food, food safety, and travel, her articles have appeared in some 89 print and online publications. Along with garnering awards for her articles and photographs, she holds the prestigious Master Writer status with American Agricultural Editors’ Association. Majoring in Dairy Science, she completed a BS in Agriculture at the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Food Safety at Michigan State University. She’s an active member of IAFP, Toxicologists Without Borders, Inc., and the National Dairy Shrine. She’s currently enrolled in the International Development Doctoral Program at the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast. Reach her at Llleake@aol.com.