“Paws” for a moment and consider these current statistics: A whopping 65 percent of U.S. households own a pet, which equates to 79.7 million homes, according to the 2015-2016 American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey.
Some 54.4 million U.S. households own at least one dog, while 42.9 million households own at least one cat. About 77.8 million dogs and about 85.8 million cats are owned in the U.S.
For those whose lives are enhanced and enriched by pets, animals are beloved members of the family. Pet owners are devoted to their care and well-being. In 2015, an estimated
$60.59 billion was spent on pets in the U.S. and $23.04 billion of that was estimated for food.
Pet food and its ingredients are susceptible to all of the same biological, chemical, and physical contaminants that can threaten human consumables. The death of any pets due to contaminated food is devastating to the people that love them. Contaminated pet food also poses a health risk to people that handle it, or may even eat it, for whatever reason.
The deadly 2007 melamine contamination resulted in the biggest pet food recall in history and a $24 million class-action court settlement.
Since 2007, FDA has received approximately 5,000 reports of pet illnesses which may be related to consumption of jerky treats, as reported on the FDA website.
Since 2010, there have been more than 90 product recalls associated with pet foods for dogs and cats potentially contaminated with Salmonella.
The importance of pet food safety cannot be overstated, says Robert Buchanan, PhD, director of the Center for Food Safety and Security Systems at the University of Maryland, College Park.
“Our pets depend on us to provide them safe food and treats free of deadly hazards,” Dr. Buchanan emphasizes on behalf of Riley and Roxy, the West Highland Terriers that enhance his life.
Dr. Buchanan is quick to point out that Salmonella transmission linked to contamination of pet foods has become a significant issue for pets and humans in recent years, not to mention a driving force in the pet food industry.
“Pet food or treats contaminated with Salmonella can cause infections in dogs and cats,” he elaborates. “Puppies, pregnant bitches, and dogs with other illness are most susceptible, and some 25 percent of dogs are asymptomatic fecal carriers. Salmonella contaminated pet food that is not handled properly can cause serious illness in people too, especially children.”
Dr. Buchanan contends that the status of pet foods in the realm of food safety has changed dramatically as a result of outbreaks of salmonellosis among pet owners.
Game Changing Outbreaks
“Now pet food safety issues are public health issues,” he explains. “This mindset started in 2006 with the Salmonella enterica serotype Schwarzengrund contamination of pet food that led to prolonged multistate outbreaks involving 79 human patients into 2008.” The resulting investigation was the first to identify contaminated dry dog food as a source of human Salmonella infections.
Then in 2012, there was the Salmonella enterica serotype infants contamination that created a multistate outbreak impacting 49 patients. Seventeen brands representing more than 30,000 tons of dry dog and cat food produced at a single facility were recalled as a result of this outbreak.
Some 53,000 tons of pet food were recalled due to these two widely publicized Salmonella incidents, Dr. Buchanan notes.
Before these outbreaks, during 2004-2005, contact with Salmonella-contaminated pet treats of beef and seafood origin resulted in nine culture-confirmed human Salmonella Thompson infections in western Canada and the state of Washington. This marked the third published report to describe an outbreak of human illness associated with pet treats in North America and the first to describe such an outbreak in the U.S., CDC reports.