If you’re already feeding your pet a raw food diet or you’re thinking of switching to a raw food diet, you’ve probably thought about how to prevent foodborne pathogen contamination. You may even have noticed an increase in raw pet food being recalled by the FDA. Before you run back to processed foods, let’s clear up a few misconceptions about the growing raw pet food recalls.
The FDA and the commercial raw pet food industry
Foodborne pathogens, like Salmonella, are always a risk when you are dealing with raw food. As the industry grows, the FDA has begun to pay a bit more attention to the raw food industry. However, the numbers may be misleading. In the past, the FDA would react after a product reportedly caused illness, whereas now, the FDA is taking a proactive zero-tolerance approach to foodborne pathogens. The new zero-tolerance policy is part of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that was implemented a few years ago.
Zero-tolerance to foodborne pathogens
With the implementation of FSMA, the new zero-tolerance attitude has zeroed in on the commercial raw pet food industry. Before a product would make it to market, the FDA would conduct large-scale testing on commercial raw pet foods for E. coli, salmonella and listeria. They do not put the same focus on processed pet foods, even though, processed pet foods have been recalled frequently in the past.
Foodborne pathogens in raw pet food
What the FDA isn’t telling you is that most commercial raw pet food manufacturers already have strict methods in place to prevent foodborne pathogens. Long before the FDA started paying so much attention to it, eliminating foodborne pathogens has always been a priority for the raw pet food industry. Another misleading factor is that the standards the FDA standards for commercial raw pet food are higher than the standards they are setting for USDA-inspected meats. There is no zero-tolerance for the meat humans are buying and consuming from the supermarkets, which is the same meat from which high-quality raw pet foods are made.
Cats and dogs have a higher tolerance to pathogens
It seems odd that there are higher standards placed on raw pet food and not on food for human consumption. With people, it is assumed that the meat will be cooked, killing any potential pathogens, whereas raw pet food remains raw. However, this reasoning lacks some fundamental understanding of cats and dogs. Since cats and dogs are built to consume raw meats, they already have a strain of various bacteria in their GI tract, making them much more tolerant to foodborne pathogens.
Methods for eliminating foodborne pathogens
Raw pet food producers have long been diligent in providing safe, nutritious diets for pets using high-quality human grade meats and ingredients. Throughout the manufacturing process, from the supplier to the facilities steps are taken to reduce the risk of bacterial contamination. Once the finished product is ready to hit the shelves, a final test is conducted to make sure that no harmful bacteria is found.
Another method that many raw food producers have implemented is high-pressure pasteurization (HPP) which exposes the food to high levels of pressure exerted by liquid. This method will significantly reduce foodborne pathogens. However, some raw food advocates argue that after HPP, the food is no longer raw and beneficial bacteria and enzymes are eliminated.
Raw food is better than kibble
The quality of ingredients used in raw pet food make them much safer, healthier, and nutritious than processed kibble. Because raw pet food will use high-quality ingredients from reputable sources, the chances of contamination are less than with commercially processed pet foods.
To learn more about this issue, as always, we turn to Dr. Becker!