How Contaminated Pig Ears Will Change the Way We Think About Pet Food Forever

Staring at an empty bulk bin that once held dried pig ears, it struck me that this is probably a common sight in every pet food store in America. Shelves and bins what once held the treats are now empty since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made the dramatic announcement that told stores to stop selling them because they might be contaminated with a pathogenic bacteria: Salmonella.

When health officials began tracing back to the cause of salmonellosis in patients to what might have caused them to get sick, the one thing nearly of the people had in common was that they had either touched a pig ear dog treat or touched a dog that had been fed one. At last count, there were 127 patients in 33 states diagnosed with multi-drug resistant salmonellosis, a third of whom were so ill they had to be hospitalized. And of those people, 24 of the patients were children younger than five years old.


Despite an exhaustive search to identify a single source of the contaminated pig ears, the FDA and the U.S Centers for Disease Control (CDC) took the dramatic step of announcing a nationwide advisory that all pig ear treats, regardless of the brand, should be removed from store shelves immediately and consumers should throw them out.

The agencies issued warnings that to consumers about the risk to them and their pets, telling them that virtually every surface exposed to the pig ears might could be contaminated with the bacteria and instructed them clean and sanitize everything they used to store or serve the treats and every surface and object the treats may have come in contact with.


Unfortunately, though, cleaning doesn’t always do the trick. Decades of research have shown that seemingly thorough cleaning may not suffice to prevent the spread of Salmonella, which can adhere very tightly to commonly used food preparation surfaces, making Salmonella cross-contamination much more difficult to avoid than once thought. Even the World Health Organization has estimated that cross-contamination causes ten times as many Salmonella infections as eating undercooked meat or poultry.

The risk of cross-contamination is particularly worrisome when you consider that 100,000 Salmonella organisms can fit on the head of a pin; it might only take a half a dozen to make you sick.


What if we expand our view of the pig ear problem and consider the likelihood that other dehydrated animal parts, including cow’s ears, pizzles, rawhide, hooves, and bones might also be contaminated with Salmonella? If you consider that these products typically are only dehydrated and not heat-treated, the prospect seems more like a probability than a possibility. In the absence of cooking, pet food companies are expected to employ some method to destroy pathogens before they are brought to market, but often those methods are impractical or ineffective in removing any trace of bacteria.


What we see now is one of the first-real life examples of how a contaminated pet product is capable of causing Salmonella infections in humans in an area covering thirty-three states.

No longer will the argument about cross-contamination be theory and critics of the FDA’s stance on Salmonella in pet food will have a hard time arguing that Salmonella is harmless to the humans that handle contaminated pet food.

To anyone lying in a hospital bed, the view that Salmonella is a benign bacteria and ubiquitous in the environment, the argument that Salmonella is harmless would be absurd.


But yet, as the outbreak of multidrug-resistant Salmonella infections linked to contact with pig ear dog treats rages, raw pet food manufacturers are fighting for the right to sell Salmonella-contaminated pet food; complaining that the FDA’s regulation of Salmonella is onerous and unfair. They characterize Salmonella contamination as an unavoidable fact of nature and that most of the serotypes of Salmonella do not cause illness – at least not in small amounts.

They dispute the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act that deems Salmonella an adulterant and of the FDA’s “zero-tolerance” policy of Salmonella bacteria in pet food. The companies claim that scientific evidence does not support the FDA’s zero-tolerance policy for the pathogen and that the agency’s intolerance of Salmonella contamination violates the U.S. Constitution. They feel that the FDA is unfairly targeting them with standards that are higher than those set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for raw meat and poultry.

But what they don’t realize is that the USDA has long used the circuit court’s decision in Supreme Beef vs. USDA that found that Salmonella was “not an adulterant per se” as the basis for lack of action. The Court reasoned that Salmonella is not an adulterant per se “because normal cooking practices for meat and poultry destroy the Salmonella organism.” However, the USDA recognizes Salmonella as an adulterant only after it is associated with an illness outbreak.


While the pet food companies bicker over the allowance of Salmonella in pet food continues, the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control advise anyone who may have come into contact with potentially contaminated products to practice safe hygiene, including:

  • Thoroughly washing hands;
  • Clean and disinfect pet bedding, toys, floors, and any other surfaces that the food or the pet may have had contact with;
  • Keep the treats away from children;
  • And to not allow their dogs to lick them, their family members or surfaces in their home.

They also are instructing them to clean up their dog’s feces in yards or parks where people or other animals may become exposed.

The FDA has made clear that consumers must understand that they – as well as their pets – can be infected with the bacteria and not get sick or show any symptoms, but they may still be able to spread the infection to others.


People who think their pets have become ill after consuming contaminated treats should first contact their veterinarians. Veterinarians who wish to have pets tested for Salmonella may do so through the Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network (Vet-LIRN Network) if the pet is from a household with a person infected with Salmonella.


FDA encourages consumers to report complaints about pet food products electronically through the Safety Reporting Portal. This information helps the FDA further protect human and animal health.


Well, it’s quite simple: I think that anything that can poison or kill a person or their pet should be listed as an adulterant in food. Period.

Instead of squabbling over the method with which pathogenic bacteria are regulated, I think pet food manufacturers should focus on their sole responsibility – which is to make sure they don’t make or sell pet food that can make humans or animals sick – instead of arguing over Salmonella.

Ignoring Salmonella in meat makes little, if any, sense. And I applaud the FDA for taking a strong stand against Salmonella, and I find that the USDA’s failure to confront the reality of Salmonella, especially with regards to antibiotic-resistant Salmonella, as inexcusable.


USDA/FSIS law on adulteration:

The FDA law on adulteration:

The CDC on the pig ear problem:

The FDA on the pig ear problem:

Company recalls of the pig ears:


You made it to the end, which must mean you found the article compelling, or just plain facsinating. Either way, would it surpise you if I told you that I do this work – for free – because I love pets. In fact, I am just nuts about them. So, I feel it my mission in life is to protect pets and the people that care for them by writing stories that affect them – without trying to sell anything. Because I feel it would be unethical to have sponsors or advertisers – I rely entirely on my readers – like you – to help me pay for the running of my website. I know it’s asking a lot, but if you could donate – even if it’s just a little bit – it would mean the world to me. Please consider supporting my work on Poisoned Pets today. Pretty please!


dog cat poisoned pets safe food warnings news recalls alerts

Poisoned Pets | Pet Food Safety News remains free (and ad-free) and takes me hundreds of hours a month to research and write, and thousands of dollars a year to sustain. Even if all you can spare is $1 it will  help keep the website alive. If you find any value in what I do, please consider a donation of your choosing. Thank you!




Mollie Morrissette

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

Comments (11) Write a comment

  1. Pingback: Puppy Up Foundation | FDA Has New Information About The Nationwide Pig Ear Recall; More People Ill, Worldwide Search for Suppliers Continues

  2. I would like to know your views on commercial raw dog food the reason I am asking is I am thinking am I feeding the right food to my dog is raw the best as so many say? live in Ontario Canada and I have been feeding commercial raw for 3 years now(Tollen Raw) and when you talk to the raw dog stores they say it is the absolute best.. but is it? . My dog has high ALT liver enzymes for the last year and the last test was higher which I wonder could it be the diet of raw. I have read raw is best.. easier to digest for liver issues but others say not, but nevertheless I am questioning the safety of raw for my dog. The one reason I went to raw was teeth health as I had bad teeth issues with my previous dogs fed canned dog food and at 5 years old my dog has beautiful teeth, (I do brush them everynight also)


    • Hi Tina,

      I think raw food is fine, with a couple of exceptions. I would not feed a raw pet food unless it is made to human food standards in a human food plant, nor any other type of pet food for that matter. Secondly, because your dog has health issues you should consult a veterinarian. Lastly, if your dog is in ill health you might want to be aware that raw food typically is contaminated with bacteria which may or may not be a problem for your dog.

      You might have a look at this article I wrote on the subject of raw pet food here: https://www.poisonedpets.com/raw-meat-pet-food-safety/. Also, I could not find Tollen pet food on the Internet. Do you have more information about who they are and where they are located?


      • Thank you for addressing my concerns. Tollden Raw website http://www.tolldenfarms.ca , they have been in the business for 20 years but I still worry is it balanced they add the omega 3 fish oil to the dinners and freeze them I wonder is that okay to add omega oil with the ingredients and freeze the omega oil healthy for our dogs where you then thaw it.

        There is another one which I have not fed as it is hard to get and it is called ironwillrawdogfood.com and it is the only one that is HACCP certified it will be coming to a store where I live in a few months. He has eaten the Tollden Raw for 3 years but again I am so worried is it the right balance as in Canada for raw food you have to go by trust also. The raw food people push raw as the the best, the one cooked food I was thinking of trying is called luckydogcuisine.ca and it does say human grade dog food but it is cooked and frozen and you buy it that way but again what is stopping me is this teeth issue, from a sad story with my last dog a maltese who had terrible teeth and kidney issues lived to 15 years old but a so called qualitied dental veterinarian did a dental surgery that should never have been done and he suffered for 30 days before he passed away it from it. Needless to say it haunts me today that a trusted this vet. So now this teeth issue is so important to me BUT now my little guy who is 5 has these high ALT liver enzymes no symptoms… still why are they increasing.

        Luckydogscuisine is located both in U.S and the daughter has the Canada one. They are very nice to talk to. but again I worry will the rice etc in the food harm the teeth with tartar etc. My vet. for now is just trying the supplement denosyl and I have to find a good milk thistle and for diet I am left to what I think change to cooked say with raw, raw dog food people say raw best for liver issues another site says never fed raw for liver issues who is right? Like you mentioned where is the food for the raw being made the company sounds good but never know quality they are using. I thought raw was the only way to go for a healthy dog and right now teeth proves it is like I said he has beautiful teeth but I also brush them everynight. Not sure what direction to go. Your articles are really making me think.


        • Thanks for writing back, Tina.

          Obviously you are very concerned about raw food and in particular, you mention several brands.

          As I mentioned, feeding raw is a personal choice because there are risks associated with it. What really worries me about any pet food – raw or otherwise – is that it is made using human-grade ingredients which are mixed in a human food processing facility. Ask the companies if they are. Ask them, is their meat and poultry fit for human consumption?

          With this information, you can better judge whether their food is of better quality than pet-food-grade pet foods, which is particularly important if you are feeding raw. Otherwise, pet food companies can use meat and poultry that is condemned and unfit for human consumption.

          About the companies you ask about: As far as I can tell Tollden Farms is not human-grade, but to be sure – ask them. Iron Will claims to be human-grade, and says, “meats come from local human grade federally or provincially inspected plants,” but you should ask for verification. Lucky Dog also claims to be human-grade and human-edible “top quality human grade food,” but still, it’s best to ask for some sort of verification.

          As far as dental issues – you must ask the advice of a veterinarian. I can’t possibly give you such advice as I am not a veterinarian. And if you don’t like your vet – find another one, perhaps a holistic one.

          I hope I’ve been able to help!


          • I do wonder where the meat is purchased without proof it could be any meat as there is no accountability in Ontario Canada for the commercial raw and it seems more and more companies for selling commercial raw are opening up. I have talked to Luckydogcuisine.ca for the home cooked food they are very welcoming with information and guarantee their food is human grade and said that I could eat , I am going to try it to see if the raw may be causing the high ALT liver enzymes and it seems like a quality cooked food. Thank you Mollie

          • Thatis why I always recommend the pet food made in a human food plant. By law, they cannot use any ingredients which are unfit for human consumption, which unfortunately is the case most often in pet food. And it is particularly worrisome in the case of raw meat that is condemned by the USDA which is allowed by the USDA to be diverted to renderers which use it in animal feed and fertilizer.

  3. Pingback: FDA Has New Information About The Nationwide Pig Ear Recall; More People Ill, Worldwide Search for Suppliers Continues | Poisoned Pets | Pet Food Safety News

  4. Pingback: Brutus & Barnaby Recalls Entire Line of Pig Ears Treats for Dogs for Salmonella Contamination | Poisoned Pets | Pet Food Safety News

  5. what about pig ear and other bones treats/chews for dogs that have been irradiated by a federally inspected facility? Seems like recalling all pig ears is overkill.


    • As the FDA explains that even though some treat manufacturers claim their treats had been irradiated clearly either the process was ineffective or cross-contamination occurred at the plant or if the pig ears were unpackaged they might have become contaminated in the bulk bins when they were commingled with other pig ears. Here is what the FDA said, “…effective product irradiation may not have occurred for bulk products and for packaged or individually wrapped products.”

      Pet treats – or even pet food – do not come from federally inspected facilities. That generally only applies to meat and poultry for human food that is under inspection by USDA/FSIS inspectors at official establishments. The treats in this recall were not inspected.

      It’s not overkill, particularly when you consider they have the capacity to kill someone.



This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.