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Raw Pet Food Found Contaminated with Multi-Drug Resistant Pathogenic Bacteria. Again.

A study out of Zurich that looked at raw dog and cat food raises concerns for animal and public health. The study aimed to evaluate commercially available raw meat pet diets about microbiological quality and the occurrence of antimicrobial-resistant Enterobacteriaceae.

What the scientists found was alarming.

They found that the majority of commercially produced raw foods on the European market contained high levels of harmful bacteria—including strains that could transmit diseases to pets and their owners alike.

While the study was small, most of the raw meat diets sampled did not meet the microbiological standards for Enterobacteriaceae set out by EU regulations for animal by-products intended for pet food. And of the samples tested, antimicrobial-resistant bacteria were found in over half the pet food samples, the majority thereof were resistant to third-generation cephalosporin.

WORRISOME RESULTS

“It is really worrying that we found EBSL-producing bacteria in over 60 percent of samples,” said first author Magdalena Nuesch-Inderbinen, a researcher at the University of Zurich, referring to an enzyme that renders some antibiotics ineffective.

“They include several types of E. coli which can cause infections in humans and animals. We, therefore, advise all dog and cat owners who want to feed their pets a BARF diet to handle the food carefully and maintain strict hygiene standards. Pet owners should be aware of the risk that their pet may be carrying multidrug-resistant bacteria and can spread them.”

TAKE CARE

Pets that consume contaminated pet treats and raw food diets can be colonized with organisms without exhibiting clinical signs, making them a possible hidden source of contamination in the household.
 
Consumers who feed raw pet food need to be aware of the risks and handle raw pet food appropriately, much in the same way that raw meat and poultry are handled for human consumption. But there is one major difference: If a pet eats contaminated food, there is a possibility – however remote – that pets can shed bacteria and transmit that bacteria to humans. And consumers should weigh the risks of having young children without a fully developed immunity come into contact with uncooked pet food or with a pet that might be shedding harmful bacteria from being fed contaminated pet food.

THE PROBLEM OF PROOF

To be clear, no one can say with any certainty what portion of human illnesses are the result of contact with infected pets and contaminated pet food products. The risk that the authors discuss is theoretical because there is no substantive data to apply to their risk assessment. However, despite the dearth of data, it does not mean they can’t infer that there exists a probability. 

We need to consider that there is no mechanism for tracking or reporting illnesses in animals because there is no animal equivalent to the Centers for Disease Control. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) encourages veterinarians to report confirmed cases of salmonellosis to the Centers for Disease Control, but most do not because testing is expensive, and if testing is done, it’s only when a pet’s symptoms are severe or prolonged. And many veterinarians simply are unaware that there is a mechanism for reporting adverse food and drug events to the FDA. 

AN UNPLEASANT TOPIC

The raw food issue is never a pleasant topic to revisit because it is fraught with so many variables and no absolutes. But when considering the problem and the risks they might pose to us, we need to ask ourselves these questions: If you have an infant, would you allow her to be exposed to a pet that might be shedding a multidrug-resistant bacteria? Another consideration is the risk of listeria infection from raw meat which can cause stillbirths, miscarriages, and disease in newborns. Personally, if I were pregnant, my pets would have to survive without raw pet food for nine months.

FINITE RESOURCES

Some pet food safety advocates would have you believe that studies like this one are part of some grand conspiracy to disenfranchise raw pet food manufacturers; that the study’s authors are secretly paid by the kibble manufacturers. That somehow, studies like these are a part of a secret plot designed to overthrow raw pet food manufacturers orchestrated by the FDA.

I do believe there is truth to the assertion that state and federal regulators focus their attention and resources on products that have a high probability of contamination with pathogenic bacteria. But not for the reason that the conspiracy theorists would have you believe.  I believe that the agency’s focus on raw agriculture products is because, by their very nature, they are more likely than cooked or sterile products to be contaminated. Because the FDA is woefully underfunded the agency allocates its resources – according to risk – as the most effective means of protecting public health. Therefore it only seems logical that raw pet food would be the focus of regulatory oversight.

NOTE: The findings, “Raw meat-based diets for companion animals: a potential source of transmission of pathogenic and antimicrobial-resistant Enterobacteriaceae,” were published in the Royal Society Open Science journal on October 16, 2019.

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Mollie Morrissette

Mollie Morrissette, author of Poisoned Pets, is an animal food safety expert and advisor to AAFCO. Help support her work by making a donation today.

Comments (16) Write a comment

  1. Regarding commercial raw I do worry about it after reading a lot of articles on the negative issues on feeding raw, I have wondered about a supplement called https://secure.balanceit.com, they provide internet access on recipes and you add their supplement to the recipe you choose, they also have a supplement for dogs with liver issues you pick what ingredients you want to use they provide the recipe and you add the supplement.(https://secure.balanceit.com/marketplace2.3/) I was thinking of that but what worries me is that it is a synthetic supplement you are adding to your dogs food to make it complete so would that be not as healthly compared to other dog food as it is a synthetic vitamin that has to be added to make it a complete meal?

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  2. Even though I don’t feed my animals raw food. I am so thankful for people like you that are trying to keep our pets safe. Helping us to know what’s out there and the dangers that could harm us. I truly appreciate you and your findings and you showing them with us. Thanks to people like you we can enjoy our pets live longer and healthier thank you

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  3. Maybe this is a serendipitous thing; they find the dangers of raw in pet food, and yet it is actually all meat-all human grade meat is dangerous……my animals are carnivores and they need meat. I use only human grade raw and am super happy with it

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    • I’m with you there Jennifer. As I’ve said before this problem is not unique to the pet food industry. The problem exists with all meat and poultry in the US whether for human or animal consumption.

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  4. human grade raw food is amazing. It is the exact same raw meat that we eat as humans. so, what is she talking about here? Is this a way to make us afraid of all raw? I am getting tired of the fear factor.

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    • I think why the author is worried is that animals can shed the bacteria to humans.

      Personally, I am not fearful of raw meat. I use extreme caution around handling it – as I would do with any raw meat – whether intended for human or animal consumption.

      I feed human-grade raw bison meat cuts to my cats and they love it, but I am careful to clean up afterward.

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  5. I have been getting nervous feeding my dog commercial raw since reading the articles I have changed to a cooked called luckydogcuisine but there is another commercial raw that I wonder would be safer as far as quality goes it is called iron will https://ironwillrawdogfood.com/pages/haccp-certified, just wondering if a food is haccp is the concern regarding commercial raw to our dogs better since is it haccp certified. I know where I live it is the only commercial raw that is Haccp certified, ( there are only 3 in Canada and the other two are in the East Coast and one in the West Coast ). I live in Tillsonburg Ontario Canada. My dogs ALT liver enzymes are high and I was previous feeding him Tollden Raw before changing to luckydogcuisine but I still wonder about the commercial raw and now that I have read about the Iron Will and it being Haccp certified.

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    • It sounds like a great company. I read about them and it sounds like they are doing things the right way. I would ask them if they test and hold their product before releasing for distribution though.

      Like I’ve said before I don’t have a problem with raw. I would just be extremely cautious if I had a newborn or I was pregnant or if I had someone living with me who was immune-compromised because of my fear of cross-contamination and that pets might shed pathogenic bacteria. And you need to consider the health of your pets as well.

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    • As far as raw meat – all raw meat whether for humans or animals – is probably contaminated on some level.

      As far as Dr. Marty’s is concerned why don’t you ask the company whether they test and hold their product?

      Ask them if it is fit for human consumption or is it feed grade meat?

      I looked on the website and it does not claim to be a human grade or human edible pet food, therefore legally it can be made using meat that unfit for human consumption, inedible and condemned.

      You should read my article to give you a scope of the issue: Raw Pet Food: The Problem That Just Won’t Go Away.

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  6. I noticed these were EU studies, are there any similar studies done in the US. I am feeding raw freeze dried dog food from Dr Marty. Should I be concerned.

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    • That is a question only you can answer. Feeding raw is a personal choice. Since I don’t have kids, I’m not pregnant, and I’m not immune-compromised, and I don’t have dogs – I’m not worried. It’s a risk I’m willing to take. I don’t eat meat or poultry myself, but I feed a human-edible dehydrated pet food cooked to 165 F to my cats.

      And I do feed raw meat from a local farmer who raises bison when I can afford it. I don’t ever buy ground meat, only cuts. Whole bison hearts and livers are nice. If I feed chicken, I roast it in the oven first before I feed it to the cats, plus they like it better roasted.

      I don’t know about Dr. Marty’s pet food; I would just hope that it is human edible/grade; otherwise, the quality of the ingredients cannot be assured.

      Yes, there have been many many studies on raw pet food. But one thing to keep in mind is that this problem is not confined to pet food, the very same problems occur in USDA inspected meat and poultry for humans. And unlike the FDA, the USDA doesn’t have a problem with Salmonella; the USDA just assumes people will cook it.

      If you want to get an overview of the problem of the US meat industry, I suggest you read this article I wrote: Raw Pet Food: The Problem That Just Won’t Go Away. It should answer most of your questions.

      Reply

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