Dry pet food sickening humans with Salmonella

Kansas State University president Jon Wefald likes my dogs.

Four times a week, I walk Amy to her office, and we pass by the admin types in Anderson Hall, which is next door to Amy’s building.

Yesterday was typical. President Wefald was standing in his corner office and gave a big wave to Amy and me and the dogs as we walked by.

President Wefald is great. Despite insisting the K-State will never have a hockey arena, he is always interested in the latest food safety news. He even subscribes to our food safety infosheets.

A few weeks ago as I was walking the dogs, Pres and I got to talking about human cases of Salmonella linked to dry dog food. The Pres kept asking how humans got the Salmonella and I sensed my explanation wasn’t sufficient.

Maybe this will help.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control yesterday said that Salmonella-contaminated dry pet food sickened at least 79 people, including many young children, and could still be dangerous.

Dry pet food has a 1-year shelf life. Contaminated products identified in recalls might still be in the homes of purchasers and could cause illness. Persons who have these products should not use them to feed their pets but should discard them or return them to the store," the CDC said in its weekly report on death and disease.

The brands, made by Mars Petcare U.S., include Special Kitty, Pedigree and Member’s Mark, among others. The full list of brands affected was available on www.petcare.mars.com.

The CDC report says,

"Consumers and health departments should be aware that all dry pet food, pet treats, and pet supplements might be contaminated with pathogens such as Salmonella, and consumers should use precautions with all brands of dry pet food, treats, and supplements.”

The CDC recommends that anyone handling dry pet food wash the hands and keep infants away from it.

Pedigree pet food and pregnancy: Managing cross-contamination risks at home

I am now 6 ½ months pregnant and still somewhat peacefully coexisting with our four pets. But pregnancy has meant giving special attention to handwashing and avoiding cross-contamination.
Although I thought I was being overly cautious, on Sept. 13 Pedigree small crunchy bites and Pedigree large breed complete nutrition dry pet food products were recalled due to possible Salmonella contamination (see http://www.wormsandgermsblog.com/2008/09/articles/animals/dogs/pet-food-recall-salmonella/). This appears to be the same food we feed our dogs and I know one of them was throwing up outside yesterday. Of course … she also likes to eat grass and other vomitous materials.

In addition to pet food which may contain pathogens, I pay close attention to the handling of dog treats which have been found problematic in the past. Our dogs have been getting their fill of bones lately because we haven’t had the usual time and energy to devote to their exercise. I try to avoid touching the dog bones when I take them out of the package and I wash the scissors I use to cut the packages open. I always wash my hands afterwards.

It really isn’t easy to think about washing hands every time you feed and pet the dogs, but the following are things I am trying to do to keep me and my future baby safe:

  • regularly wash the dog dishes
  • wash my hands every time I fill the dog water and food bowls (the dogs eat and drink, spreading any microbes from one bowl to the next)
  • wash my hands after opening treats and/or giving them to the dogs
  • wash the scissors after opening treat bags
  • wash my hands after playing with the pets
  • avoid letting the dogs lick my face of hands
  • wipe down the counter where pet treats have touched

These steps are all much more difficult for me than they sound. I’m usually very playful and affectionate with my pets, even though I no longer allow the dogs on the bed or couch. It’s also very difficult to think about handwashing when you are out on a walk with the dogs and give them treats as part of a training process. In those cases I just remind myself not to touch my face or use a wet wipe when I have one handy.

I am still learning after years of taking it for granted that my dogs’ food was safe. Food safety, even for pets, is not simple.

For human symptoms of salmonella poisoning, check out http://barfblog.foodsafety.ksu.edu/2008/06/articles/salmonella/salmonella-symptoms/

According to an article in the North Country Gazette (April 3, 2007) related to a past pet food recall:

Pets with salmonella infections may be lethargic and have diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, fever, and vomiting. Some pets will have only decreased appetite, fever and abdominal pain. Apparently well animals can be a carrier and infect other animals or humans. If your pet has consumed the recalled product and has these symptoms, please contact your veterinarian

Salmonella in people from dry dog food

Health types have traced several Salmonella outbreaks to various pet treats like pig ears and other chewies over the years.

Now, dry dog food has been linked to a Salmonella outbreak in humans.

From January 1, 2006–December 31, 2007, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others investigated a total of 70 cases of Salmonella enterica serotype Schwarzengrund infection in humans in 19 states, mostly in the northeastern United States.

The source of the infection was dry dog food produced at a manufacturing plant in Pennsylvania, the first time contaminated dry dog food has been identified as a source of human Salmonella infections. CDC recommends that after handling pet foods, pet owners should wash their hands immediately, and infants should be kept away from pet feeding areas.