Raw pet food. Pet food safety. A controversial and often hot-button topic. One of the reasons most veterinarians recommend against a raw diet is the risk of pathogens being passed from the dog to family members, or the risk of food preppers getting sick from pathogens. What about raw pet food safety?
What measures do commercially produced raw food companies have in place to protect the consumers from pathogens? The FDA has a zero tolerance policy for salmonella in pet food.
This policy applies to raw pet foods and kibble. It’s in response to several instances where people came into contact with salmonella in dry dog food in the early 2000s and has been in place ever since. Many say this measure is extreme, considering there is an acceptable level of salmonella in the human food chain.
How do pet food companies, particularly raw food producers ensure their products are safe and treated for pathogens without sacrificing their raw standards and processes?
Pet Food Safety: Irradiation
Food irradiation is the application of ionizing radiation to foods. It is alleged to improve safety and extends the shelf-life of foods by killing microorganisms and insects. Many raw pet foods need refrigeration unless they are freeze dried formulas.
Irradiation was originally introduced to:
- Reduce parasites and harmful bacteria, therefore eliminating risk for food poisioning.
- Destroy mold, bacteria, and yeast, and prevent spoilage.
- Increase the shelf life of fruits and vegetables by delaying ripening.
- Kill bugs in packaging.
Unfortunately, food irradiation has instead introduced radiation resistant bacteria, even worse sanitary conditions in food processing facilities, and unreasonably long shelf lives of foods. This is especially true for pet foods. Sadly, the consumer really has no way of knowing that a pet food or its ingredients have been irradiated since regulations that govern irradiated human foods are not as stringent for pet foods. Food irridation is approved by the FDA.
Food is exposed to a highly controlled amount of electromagnetic radiation, either in the form of Gamma Rays, X-Rays, or a high energy electron beam. The energy from the radiation breaks chemical bonds. and kills living tissues and is used to eliminate bacteria, parasites, and salmonella.
If your pet’s food has been treated with irradiation, this symbol, a radura will appear on the package. While this radura looks green and harmless, approach with caution.
Irradiated Food Cautions
Irradiation tested on laboratory animals has resulted in serious health issues such as tumors, early death, mutations, and reproductive issues. Additionally, there is concern that irradiation affects the nutrition of foods, breaking down certain vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and even changing the molecular makeup of foods.
Irradiation can also produce trace amounts of radioactivity, introduce free-radicals into the body, and have even created radioactive water waste in areas where food irradiation was practiced. Unless your pet eats an organic diet, it is nearly impossible to know if irradiated foods are part of the ingredients.
Pet food safety is paramount, but when other risks are introduced, it’s time to examine the processes our pet foods are made with. It’s time to opt for better food.
Pet Food Safety: HPP (High Pressure Pasteurization)
Another pet food safety measure, arguably another controversial measure, is High Pressure Pasteurization (HPP). High pressure pasteurization is a non-thermal processing technique used to minimize pathogen risk in raw pet foods. Cold water is used to exert extremely high pressure on the foods.
To begin, the food is packaged in hermetically sealed packaging. It is then placed into a pressure vessel. The vessel is then filled with cold water, where extremely high levels of pressure are applied to the food through the water. The pressure food is exposed to is 5 times that of the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest point of the ocean. Finally, the food is held for a few seconds to a few minutes.
The HPP process disturb the cell membrane processes of microorganisms in the food, killing them. This allows the foods to retain their chemical and nutrient profiles, along with maintaining the texture and apperance for consumer satisfaction.
HPP treated pet foods have become more mainstream in recent years, gaining consumer trust and leading other companies to jump on board. Additionally, FDA policies on pathogens have forced raw pet food safety practices like HPP on many manufacturers. Companies like Primal, Kiwi, Stella and Chewy’s, and Instinct Raw all use HPP processing.
Cautions Regarding HPP Processing
The main concern regarding pet food safety through HPP processing is that toxins from the plastic packaging may leach into the food.
BPAs are known endocrine disruptors found in plastics. They cause a range of issues from obesity to thyroid issues in pets and people. At this point, further research is needed. HPP is a relatively new pathogen treatment process, and the information simply isn’t there.
As more and more manufacturers acknowledge that BPAs are harmful, they’re moving away from packaging options that contain them.
The food my dogs eat, Northwest Naturals raw beef and raw salmon/whitefish recipes are indeed treated with HPP. Meat nuggets have a cooked-like appearance. The dogs enjoy both recipes, they’re dogs and will eat anything though. Additionally, disclosing that I feed this brand has not resulted in the stern lecture about risks of raw foods from my veterinarian.
In short, while I’m a little wary of HPP processing, I will still feed and eat foods that use this process myself. Learning about irradiation makes me want to switch to 100% organic and avoid any and all irradiated foods.
In order to make the best choices for your pet:
- Choose food that was grown or raised responsibly; if feeding DIY raw we recommend against using grocery store meats and opting for farmed meats that you know the source of. (Farmer’s markets and local farmers are great resources, and often reasonably priced).
- Additionally, if you wish to make a DIY diet, consider gently cooking raw meats.
- If you want to feed a raw diet, consider a commercially produced, balanced diet that uses HPP processing. It can even be part of the diet.
- Look for products that are organic or 100% natural.
- Pet food safety can take on many forms, but begins with you.
- Remember, your dog can’t choose her own food. Choose wisely.
Graham, Jay P. et al. “The Animal-Human Interface and Infectious Disease in Industrial Food Animal Production: Rethinking Biosecurity and Biocontainment.” Public Health Report, May-Jun; 123(3): 282–299 (May-June 2008). Retrieved January 13, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2289982/