There have been several human outbreaks following exposure to E. coli and Salmonella contaminated dog food, which was more likely with commercial and home-cooked raw food. These dieters typically have to prepare pet food in the kitchen, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE.
However, guidelines for the safe handling of pet food and utensils are limited, and their effectiveness is unclear. Therefore, the authors of the new study examined the dietary habits of dog owners and analyzed the impact of the US Food and Drug Administration’s hygiene protocols on dog food contamination.
In casual discussions between veterinary nutritionists, “we found that we all had different pet food storage and sanitation practices when it came to our own pets,” said Emily Luisana, study co-author and small animal veterinary nutritionist. “When we realized that (FDA) recommendations were relatively unknown, even among professionals, we wanted to see what other pet owners were doing.”
Luisana is a member of the Veterinary Advisory Board of Tailored, a dog food company run by pet nutrition experts. Caitlyn Getty, another study co-author, is the veterinarian for scientific affairs at NomNomNow Inc., a company focused on pet gut health and appropriate food. Neither company funded this study and the authors reported no competing interests. The focus of the study is on how owners treat any dog food, not the food brands themselves.
Awareness vs Action
Researchers found that 4.7% of 417 dog owners surveyed were aware of FDA guidelines on pet food handling and dish hygiene – 43% of participants stored dog food within 1.5 meters (5 feet) of human food, 34% washed hands after feeding and 33% prepared their dog food on preparation surfaces intended for human consumption.
Fifty owners (out of a total of 68 dogs) participated in an approximately eight-day bowl contamination experiment. The authors examined the bowls for bacterial populations, known as aerobic plate counts, and then divided the owners into three groups: Group A followed FDA tips, which included washing hands before and after handling pet food, and not the Using the bowl to scoop up food, washing the bowl and scooping implements with soap and hot water after use, disposing of uneaten food in the manner intended, and storing dry pet food in its original packaging.
Group B had to follow FDA food handling tips for both pets and humans, which also required washing hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds; scraping food from dishes before washing; Wash dishes with soap and water hotter than 71°C for at least 30 seconds, dry thoroughly with a clean towel, or use a National Sanitation Foundation-certified dishwasher to wash and dry.
Group C received no instructions but were informed when the second swab would be taken.
The practices followed by Groups A and B resulted in a significant decrease in food contamination compared to Group C, the study found. Dishes washed with hot water or in the dishwasher had a decrease of 1.5 units on the soiling scale compared to dishes washed with cold or lukewarm water. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Cleaning and Disinfection Guidelines for Human Dishes” are based on a 5-log reduction in bacteria count, the authors write. A 1.5 log reduction corresponds to a 90% to 99% reduction in microorganisms; a 5 log reduction means 99.999% of the microorganisms have been killed.
Contamination of dishes in group C increased between swabs. None of the Group C owners had washed their dogs’ bowls in the eight days since the authors collected the first bacterial sample, “although they were made aware that FDA guidelines were in place and the bowls would be re-sampled,” the authors said Luisana.
“This shows that just raising awareness of the current recommendations is not enough,” she added.
Reducing the risk of contamination
The authors said they believe this education is particularly important for vulnerable populations, such as B. People with weakened immune systems.
According to studies published over the last 15 years, pet food bowls are among the most contaminated household items, sometimes even boasting a bacterial load approaching that of toilets.
However, 20% of people in Groups A and B in the current study said they were likely to follow hygiene instructions long-term, and even fewer – 8% – said they were likely to follow all guidelines given.
“Our study shows that pet owners contact their veterinarian, pet food store and pet food manufacturer for information on pet food storage and hygiene guidelines,” Luisana said. Pet food companies testing their food in both lab and home settings, then providing storage and handling recommendations on labels or websites would be a good place to start, she added.
More studies on the effects are needed, but Luisana hopes pet owners and veterinarians will use the results of this study to consider the impact that feeding hygiene may have on the health and happiness of pets, immunocompromised humans, and zoonotic diseases that may occur between be transmitted to animals and humans.
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