Toxic Treat: Diseased, Irradiated Ears & Sharp Enough to Put a Hole in a Tire

piglet in boots

Diseased Doggie Treats

The recent recall of the pig ear chews should come as no surprise considering that a study published in October 2010 found nearly 25% of the pig ear chews tested were found to be contaminated with salmonella. The article, “Prevalence of Salmonella in pig ear pet treats”, concluded that the study results “emphasises that there is a long-term continuing risk of human exposure to Salmonella associated with pig ear treats.”

Salmonella is one of the most important causes of foodborne disease throughout the world. In recent years there have been documented outbreaks of Salmonella infection in humans associated with pet treats of animal origin; in particular pig ear pet treats in Canada and the United States.

Nuclear Nibbles

Food irradiation is currently used in the United States for feeds for research and lab animals, and under FDA special permission letters, for dog chews to control microorganisms such as Salmonella. Unfortunately, not only is the practice suspected by many to be dangerous, irradiation is an ineffective microbial disinfection process to rid animal feeds of Salmonella.

“Food irradiation is a pseudo-fix,” said Bill Freese, a science policy analyst with the Center for Food Safety in Washington, DC. “It’s a way to try to come in and clean up problems that are created in the middle of the food production chain. I think it’s clearly a disincentive to clean up the problems at the source.”

Radiation can do strange things to food, by creating substances called “unique radiolytic products.” These irradiation byproducts include a variety of mutagens – substances that can cause gene mutations, polyploidy (an abnormal condition in which cells contain more than two sets of chromosomes), chromosome aberrations (often associated with cancerous cells), and dominant lethal mutations (a change in a cell that prevents it from reproducing) in human cells. Making matters worse, many mutagens are also carcinogens.

Research also shows that irradiation forms volatile toxic chemicals such as benzene and toluene, chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer and birth defects.

“Irradiation is a total cop-out,” said Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food and Water Watch. “They (FDA & USDA) don’t have the resources, the authority or the political will to protect consumers from unsafe food.”

Shards of Glass

According to a recent article in the Whole Dog Journal, “Animal-based chews seem more natural, but some (especially things like pigs’ ears) are dried to a level of brittleness that seems to invite internal injuries when the shards are crunched into small pieces and swallowed.” When chewed, the  sharp fragments may cause a partial intestinal obstruction. Partial obstructions are often difficult to diagnose until the point at which the fragment is ready to perforate the wall of the bowel from pressure against the sharp edges.  If perforation has occurred, the infection that ensues from leakage of intestinal contents can be fatal.


Prevalence of Salmonella in pig ear pet treats Food Research International, Volume 44, Issue 1, January 2011, Pages 193-197

Finding the Right Rawhide Chew For Your Dog Whole Dog Journal, May 2009

Irradiation of Animal Feeds 21 CFR Part 579.40—Irradiation in the Production, Processing, and Handling of Animal Feed and Pet Food

Food Irradiation The Center for Food Safety, Washington DC 20003

U.S. Food Irradiation Food and Water Watch, Published on November 04, 2009


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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.