One common concern heard from non-raw feeders is that raw food will cause the family and pet to become sick. The true worry is about cross-contamination by harmful bacteria. While this is a understandable concern, the truth is that as long as pet parents are sanitizing and properly storing their pet’s raw food, there should be no concern for cross-contamination of foodborne pathogens such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria.
Raw pet food can come with an increased risk of exposing the pet parent, pet, and family to harmful bacteria if proper safety measures are not utilized. In order to minimize cross-contamination, there are 5 important tips all pet parents must follow to reduce the risk of foodborne illness:
Standard food safety and food handling is required when feeding dogs and cats raw food. Maintaining clean hygiene and proper storage methods prevents contamination from pet raw food to human food which is one of the most common concerns from others.
Raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs can carry pathogens and should be kept separate from other foods. As a preventive measure against cross-contamination, it is best to prepare and store raw pet food separately from human-grade food. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using separate cutting boards and storing these items separately in the fridge.
Wash Produce Only
Contrary to popular belief, raw meat should not be washed under water because it increases the spread of bacteria and increases the risk of cross-contamination. However, raw vegetables and fruits should be washed to remove any unwanted residue on the ingredients.
When selecting produce to feed pets, it is ideal to select ingredients grown without herbicides and pesticides. It is not easy to determine if fresh produce is truly free of herbicides and pesticides. Therefore, it is recommended to thoroughly wash all vegetables and fruits before feeding.
Rinsing vegetables and fruits under running water is the most common method, but acidic soaking solutions prove to be more effective than rinsing alone. Soaking raw vegetables and fruits for 20 minutes in a 10% salt water solution increases the efficiency of removing pesticides from fresh produce.
Refrigerate Raw Pet Food
The CDC recommends keeping refrigerators below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.5C). Bacteria can grow rapidly in the temperature “danger zone,” between 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.5C) and 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60C) if left out for prolonged periods of time. There are recommended time variables for refrigerating raw meat, poultry, and seafood for human consumption to minimize the growth of bacteria and maintain freshness.
According to FoodSaftey.gov, all raw ground meats, poultry, seafood, and variety meats for human consumption should be used within 1 to 2 days of being in the refrigerator. Raw roasts, steaks, and chops (beef, veal, lamb, and pork) for human consumption should be used within 3 to 5 days. In contrast, raw food for pet consumption should be used within 7 days.
Some dogs and cats have been observed caching raw food and returning to consume the food at a later date. This puts the raw food in the temperature danger zone for an extended period of time outside of the CDC’s recommendation for refrigerating food for human consumption. It is not recommended to allow pets to engage in caching raw food, specifically in a home environment, because it increases the risks of cross-contamination and pets becoming sick from pathogens.
Freezing and Thawing Raw Pet Food
Freeze raw pet food for longer term storage until ready for use. Methods to thaw raw food for pet consumption varies slightly in comparison to methods for human consumption. Frozen food can be thawed by being placed in the refrigerator, which is the most common and recommended method for pet and human consumption.
Dogs and cats are equipped to handle higher bacteria loads than humans. In contrast to methods used to thaw food for human consumption, pet food can be thawed in a bowl on the countertop. However, it is important not to let the food sit out once thawed.
It is not recommended to thaw raw pet food in hot or warm water because as the food thaws and becomes warmer than 40ºF, bacteria begins to multiply. Maintaining a constant temperature of 40ºF or lower when thawing your pet’s food is the safest practice. When thawing food in cold water, it is important to note the possibility of nutrients leaching into the surrounding water if the container or bag has holes. Lastly, do not microwave raw food for pet consumption as this will begin to cook the food.
Clean & Sanitize Prep Space
Maintaining a clean and tidy prep space is a major component in preventing cross-contamination. Always thoroughly sanitize after prepping food for pets and after they have finished eating.
Clean Personal Hygiene
One of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of illness-causing bacteria is for people to wash their hands! The CDC recommends people wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water. Pet parents should always wash their hands after handling raw pet food, cleaning the prep area, and picking up the pet’s stool.
Dogs with long beards that trap excess liquid should be wiped after eating to prevent the spread of bacteria. Additionally, dogs and cats who consume raw food will eliminate pathogens in their feces which can increase exposure to humans. Always pick up stool promptly after elimination, safely dispose of it, and wash up immediately.
Following these simple steps when feeding pets raw food will decrease the risk of spreading bacteria. Feeding pets raw food does not present any more risk of illness than storing and preparing raw meats to cook for human consumption.