Most dog owners don’t handle pet food safely, putting families at risk of food-borne illness

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Most dog owners in the United States don’t know how to safely handle pet food and pet dishes, putting their families at risk for foodborne illness, a new study suggests.

Researchers from North Carolina State University in Raleigh suggest that fewer than 5% of 417 dog owners were aware of Food and Drug Administration guidelines for safe pet food handling. The findings were recently published in the journal PLOS ONE.

“Most pet owners are unaware that pet food bowls can be a hidden source of bacteria in the household,” researchers said. “Knowing how to mitigate this risk and practice proper pet food storage and hygiene may make for a happy, healthier household.”

Only one-third of pet owners in the study reported that they followed FDA recommendations such as washing their hands after feeding, and only two-thirds reported preparing dog food on separate surfaces from those used for human food.

Researchers also tested 68 household dog food dishes for bacterial contamination. After initial testing, they divided the owners into three groups and gave each group different instructions for food handling. The dog food dishes were tested again after one week.

The study found significantly reduced contamination of dishes from owners who instituted the FDA’s pet food handling guidelines, versus dishes from owners who did not.

Here are tips for how to handle pet food safely, with information from the FDA and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

* Wash your hands with soap and water right after handling pet food or treats.

* Store pet food and treats in the original container, so the UPC code, lot number and other information are easily available in case of a product defect or recall.

* If you pour dry pet food into another storage container, make sure the container is clean, dry, and has a lid that fits snuggly to keep the food fresh. Save the UPC code, lot number and other information by taping that information to the outside of the container. Wash and dry the storage container between bags of kibble.

* Store dry pet food and unopened canned food in a cool and dry place. Excess heat or moisture may cause the nutrients to break down.

* Store pet food and treats away from where human food is stored or prepared. Keep away from young children.

* Don’t use your pet’s feeding bowl to scoop food. Use a clean, dedicated scoop, spoon or cup.

* Wash and dry pet food bowls and scooping utensils after each use. Wash water bowls daily.

* Refrigerate or throw out unused or leftover canned and pouched pet food.

* Don’t let your pet lick around your mouth and face after it eats. If you do play with your pet after they have just eaten, wash your hands, and any other parts of your body they licked, with soap and water.

* Stop using the produce and call your vet if you detect a foul odor coming from pet food, the can or pouch is swollen or leaking, you find a foreign object in the product, or your pet becomes sick after eating it.

Raw pet food requires special handling

Raw pet food is more likely than processed pet food to contain harmful bacteria, such as salmonella and listeria, that can sicken pets and humans. For this reason, the CDC does not recommend feeding raw food to pets.

If you do feed raw food to pets, here are special handing tips:

* Freeze raw pet food until you are ready to use it.

* Don’t store raw pet food near other food in your refrigerator or freezer.

* Don’t put frozen raw pet foods on a countertop or in a sink to thaw.

* Wash your hands with soap and water after handling raw pet food.

* Clean and disinfect all surfaces that the raw food touched, such as countertops, microwaves, refrigerators, bowls and utensils.

* Throw away any thawed food your pet doesn’t eat.

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