The Salt
10:40 am
Mon April 15, 2013

First, You Growl: When Your Dog's Food Is Recalled For Salmonella

Originally published on Mon April 15, 2013 12:43 pm

Ashley Chaifetz is getting a Ph.D. in food safety policy, so you'd figure she knows a thing or two about keeping bad microbes out of her house.

So she was more than a little surprised when she got an email from her online pet food purveyor, saying that they'd sold her dry dog food that might be contaminated with salmonella.

Her dog, a corgi-pit bull mix rescue dog named Chloe, had already snarfed her way through half of a 30-pound bag of Natura herring and sweet potato dry food. Uh-oh.

Chaifetz knows the symptoms of foodborne illness in humans, but wasn't so sure about dogs. The email from the company didn't clue her in.

Some quick Googling and a call to her veterinarian confirmed that the symptoms are the same in pets: vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy and fever. "She certainly wouldn't tell me if she had a fever," Chaifetz says.

Fortunately, Chloe didn't get sick, and Chaifetz didn't get sick, either. But other recent outbreaks in pet food have spread to humans, to nasty effect.

Last year, a salmonella outbreak in dry dog food sickened 22 people in North America. Then there was a multiyear salmonella outbreak from 2006 through 2008, with 79 humans falling ill.

What did our food safety policy student learn from her encounter with an outbreak? Two things.

"Salmonella might not be homogenous in the bag," Chaifetz told The Salt. So even though her dog didn't get sick, the remaining food could still be contaminated. That bag went in the trash. (The company swiftly sent her a coupon for a replacement bag.)

Fact two: Humans most often get infected from scooping up pet poop — not from handling pet food. "That was a surprise to me, and I'm a person who studies food safety." (She wrote about her experience for the delightfully titled Barfblog.)

Clearly, diligent hand-washing after pet care is a good idea, even when there isn't an outbreak.

This latest recall hasn't infected any people, at least none that the FDA knows of. But it's been expanded to include cat and ferret foods and treats, so stay tuned.

But poop patrol isn't the only way that perilous microbes can move from animal to pet. After the 2012 outbreak, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that people most likely were infected from handling their pet's food.

Our colleague Scott Hensley recalls that not so very long ago, one of his boys considered dog biscuits an ideal snack. Public health experts told him that children under 5 should never handle pet foods or treats.

Guess they meant "or eat them," either.

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