Backyard chicks continue to sicken, in the U.S. and Australia

Queensland’s latest salmonella outbreak has caused officials to warn backyard chicken owners to practice biosecurity steps to ensure everyone’s safety in handling the animals. Since June 26, 17 cases of Salmonella typhimurium have been documented.

According to ABC News, 13 of the cases were aged 11 or younger. Additionally, five out of the 17 cases were admitted to the hospital. The recent outbreak has been associated with chicks from an unnamed supplier.

Backyard poultry can appear harmless, healthy, and clean but can carry Salmonella spp or Campylobacter spp. Moreover, chicken coops, habitats, and eggs could also become contaminated.

Zoonotic diseases that backyard poultry may transmit to humans include salmonellosis, campylobacteriosis, and avian influenza viruses. Since the 1990s, epidemics of human Salmonella spp infections connected to contact with backyard chickens have been recorded in the United States.

In Victoria, nine cases of salmonella in two months were linked to the pet chicks and their eggs.

And in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control reported that as of June 23, 2020, there were 465 recent cases of Salmonella linked to backyard poultry, including one death, an increase of 368 ill people since the previous report on May 20, 2020.

CDC says always wash your hands and don’t kiss backyard poultry or snuggle them and then touch your face or mouth.

Don’t let backyard poultry inside the house, especially in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored.

Set aside a pair of shoes to wear while taking care of poultry and keep those shoes outside of the house.

Don’t eat or drink where poultry live or roam.

Stay outdoors when cleaning any equipment or materials used to raise or care for poultry, such as cages and containers for feed or water.

Supervise kids around poultry.

Always supervise children around poultry and while they wash their hands afterward.

Children younger than 5 years of age shouldn’t handle or touch chicks, ducklings, or other poultry. Young children are more likely to get sick from germs like Salmonella.

Handle eggs safely.

Collect eggs often. Eggs that sit in the nest can become dirty or break.

Throw away cracked eggs. Germs on the shell can more easily enter the egg though a cracked shell.

Eggs with dirt and debris can be cleaned carefully with fine sandpaper, a brush, or a cloth.

Don’t wash warm, fresh eggs because colder water can pull germs into the egg.

Refrigerate eggs after collection to maintain freshness and slow germ growth.

Cook eggs until both the yolk and white are firm. Egg dishes should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F (71°C) or hotter. Raw and undercooked eggs may contain Salmonella bacteria that can make you sick.

‘Sushi parasites’ have increased 283-fold in past 40 years

I don’t eat sushi.

The combination of rice and raw fish sets off way too many risk buttons for me.

There was this one time, about eight years ago, I went to Dubai and Abu  Dhabi, to evaluate a graduate program and hang out at Dubai’s food safety conference.

A microbiologist from the University of New South Wales was also enlisted (and knew more about this stuff than I did).

One night, our hosts took us to dinner featuring a buffet overflowing with raw seafood.

He said, “Don’t.”

You don’t want to know the microbiological profile of that raw seafood, or something like that.

The University of Washington says, the next time you eat sashimi, nigiri or other forms of raw fish, consider doing a quick check for worms.

A new study led by the University of Washington finds dramatic increases in the abundance of a worm that can be transmitted to humans who eat raw or undercooked seafood. Its 283-fold increase in abundance since the 1970s could have implications for the health of humans and marine mammals, which both can inadvertently eat the worm.

Thousands of papers have looked at the abundance of this parasitic worm, known as Anisakis or “herring worm,” in particular places and at particular times. But this is the first study to combine the results of those papers to investigate how the global abundance of these worms has changed through time. The findings were published March 19 in the journal Global Change Biology.

“This study harnesses the power of many studies together to show a global picture of change over a nearly four-decade period,” said corresponding author Chelsea Wood, an assistant professor in the UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. “It’s interesting because it shows how risks to both humans and marine mammals are changing over time. That’s important to know from a public health standpoint, and for understanding what’s going on with marine mammal populations that aren’t thriving.”

Despite their name, herring worms can be found in a variety of marine fish and squid species. When people eat live herring worms, the parasite can invade the intestinal wall and cause symptoms that mimic those of food poisoning, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. In most cases, the worm dies after a few days and the symptoms disappear. This disease, called anisakiasis or anisakidosis, is rarely diagnosed because most people assume they merely suffered a bad case of food poisoning, Wood explained.

After the worms hatch in the ocean, they first infect small crustaceans, such as bottom-dwelling shrimp or copepods. When small fish eat the infected crustaceans, the worms then transfer to their bodies, and this continues as larger fish eat smaller infected fish.

Humans and marine mammals become infected when they eat a fish that contains worms. The worms can’t reproduce or live for more than a few days in a human’s intestine, but they can persist and reproduce in marine mammals.

Vibrio risk model development using various water inputs

Vibrio parahaemolyticus is a leading cause of seafood-borne gastroenteritis. Given its natural presence in brackish waters, there is a need to develop operational forecast models that can sufficiently predict the bacterium’s spatial and temporal variation.

 This work attempted to develop V. parahaemolyticus prediction models using frequently measured time-indexed and -lagged water quality measures. Models were built using a large data set (n = 1,043) of surface water samples from 2007 to 2010 previously analyzed for V. parahaemolyticus in the Chesapeake Bay. Water quality variables were classified as time indexed, 1-month lag, and 2-month lag. Tobit regression models were used to account for V. parahaemolyticus measures below the limit of quantification and to simultaneously estimate the presence and abundance of the bacterium. Models were evaluated using cross-validation and metrics that quantify prediction bias and uncertainty.

Presence classification models containing only one type of water quality parameter (e.g., temperature) performed poorly, while models with additional water quality parameters (i.e., salinity, clarity, and dissolved oxygen) performed well. Lagged variable models performed similarly to time-indexed models, and lagged variables occasionally contained a predictive power that was independent of or superior to that of time-indexed variables. Abundance estimation models were less effective, primarily due to a restricted number of samples with abundances above the limit of quantification. These findings indicate that an operational in situ prediction model is attainable but will require a variety of water quality measurements and that lagged measurements will be particularly useful for forecasting.

Future work will expand variable selection for prediction models and extend the spatial-temporal extent of predictions by using geostatistical interpolation techniques.

IMPORTANCE Vibrio parahaemolyticus is one of the leading causes of seafood-borne illness in the United States and across the globe. Exposure often occurs from the consumption of raw shellfish. Despite public health concerns, there have been only sporadic efforts to develop environmental prediction and forecast models for the bacterium preharvest.

This analysis used commonly sampled water quality measurements of temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and clarity to develop models for V. parahaemolyticus in surface water. Predictors also included measurements taken months before water was tested for the bacterium. Results revealed that the use of multiple water quality measurements is necessary for satisfactory prediction performance, challenging current efforts to manage the risk of infection based upon water temperature alone.

The results also highlight the potential advantage of including historical water quality measurements. This analysis shows promise and lays the groundwork for future operational prediction and forecast models.

Vibrio parahaemolyticus in the Chesapeake Bay: Operational in situ predition and forecast models can benefit from inclusion of lagged water quality measurements

Public and Environmental Health Microbiology

Benjamin J. K. Davis, John M. Jacobs, Benjamin Zaitchik, Angelo DePaola, Frank C. Curriero

DOI: 10.1128/AEM.01007-19

Money: Cost of Salmonella infections in Australia, 2015

Gastroenteritis caused from infections with Salmonella enterica (salmonellosis) causes significant morbidity in Australia. In addition to acute gastroenteritis, approximately 8.8% of people develop irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and 8.5% of people develop reactive arthritis (ReA). We estimated the economic cost of salmonellosis and associated sequel illnesses in Australia in a typical year circa 2015.

We estimated incidence, hospitalizations, other health care usage, absenteeism, and premature mortality for four age groups using a variety of complementary data sets. We calculated direct costs (health care) and indirect costs (lost productivity and premature mortality) by using Monte Carlo simulation to estimate 90% credible intervals (CrI) around our point estimates.

We estimated that 90,833 cases, 4,312 hospitalizations, and 19 deaths occurred from salmonellosis in Australia circa 2015 at a direct cost of AUD 23.8 million (90% CrI, 19.3 to 28.9 million) and a total cost of AUD 124.4 million (90% CrI, 107.4 to 143.1 million). When IBS and ReA were included, the estimated direct cost was 35.7 million (90% CrI, 29.9 to 42.7 million) and the total cost was AUD 146.8 million (90% CrI, 127.8 to 167.9 million).

Foodborne infections were responsible for AUD 88.9 million (90% CrI, 63.9 to 112.4 million) from acute salmonellosis and AUD 104.8 million (90% CrI, 75.5 to 132.3 million) when IBS and ReA were included. Targeted interventions to prevent illness could considerably reduce costs and societal impact from Salmonella infections and sequel illnesses in Australia.

Cost of salmonella infections in Australia, 2015

September 2019

Journal of Food Protection vol. 82 no. 9



Norovirus and Hepatitis A risk in Australian greens and berries

The apparent international rise in foodborne virus outbreaks attributed to fresh produce and the increasing importance of fresh produce in the Australian diet has led to the requirement to gather information to inform the development of risk management strategies.

A prevalence survey for norovirus (NoV) and hepatitis A virus (HAV) in fresh Australian produce (leafy greens, strawberries and blueberries) at retail was undertaken during 2013–2014 and data used to develop a risk profile. The prevalence of HAV in berries and leafy greens was estimated to be <2%, with no virus detected in produce during the yearlong survey. The prevalence of NoV in fresh strawberries and blueberries was also estimated to be <2% with no virus detected in berries, whilst for leafy greens the NoV prevalence was 2.2%.

Prevalence of a bacterial hygiene indicator, Escherichia coli, was also investigated and found to range from <1% in berries to 10.7% in leafy greens. None of the NoV positive leafy green samples tested positive for E. coli, indicating it is a poor indicator for viral risk.

The risk was evaluated using standard codex procedures and the Risk Ranger tool. Taking all data into account, including the hazard dose and severity, probability of exposure, probability of infective dose and available epidemiological data, the risk of HAV and NoV foodborne illness associated with fresh Australian berries (strawberries and blueberries) sold as packaged product was deemed to be low. The risk of foodborne illness from HAV associated with leafy greens was also deemed to be low, but higher than that for fresh berries, due mainly to the potential for recontamination post-processing if sold loose. The risk of foodborne illness from NoV associated with leafy greens was deemed to be low/moderate. Despite the prevalence of NoV in leafy greens being low and the inability to discriminate between infective and non-infective virus using PCR based methodologies, the fact that NoV was detected resulted in a higher risk associated with this pathogen-product pairing; compounded by the higher prevalence of NoV within the community compared to HAV, and the potential for leafy greens to become contaminated following processing if sold loose.

Estimating risk associated with human norovirus and hepatitis A virus in fresh Australian leafy greens and berries at retail 26 August 2019

International Journal of Food Microbiology

Valeria A.Torok, Kate R.Hodgson, Jessica Jolley, Alison Turnbull, Catherine McLeod

Careful with that toothpick, Eugene

A young man nearly lost his life to a toothpick he didn’t even know he had swallowed, according to a report published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Denise Grady of The New York Times reports a three-inch wood pick, from a sandwich, traveled through most of his digestive tract without doing any harm. But then it poked through the intestinal wall and pierced an artery, creating a conduit for bacteria to invade his bloodstream and damaging the artery enough to cause serious bleeding.

For nearly three weeks, his symptoms — abdominal pain, fever, distressing gut trouble — mystified doctors. By the time they figured out what was wrong, he had a potentially fatal infection. It took extensive surgery to save him.

Injuries like this are not common, but cases have been reported in medical journals over the years.

Toothpicks are everywhere, jabbed into sliders, wraps, club sandwiches and cocktail garnishes. Often, people have no idea they swallowed one, maybe because they were distracted or eating in a hurry.

The picks — unscathed by stomach acid or digestive enzymes — have been found in the stomach and both small and large intestines. In a few cases they have worked their way into other organs, including the liver, pancreas, lung, kidney and even a coronary artery. They can be difficult or impossible to see on scans.

An analysis of 136 cases that were serious enough to be reported in medical journals found that nearly 10 percent were fatal.

Salami, fermented sausage and risk in Italy

Sorenne loves her salami  — or smallgoods as they are sometimes called in Australia.

soppresseNow its gone all artsy or artisanal but there’s still a microbiological risk.

As of the start of the 21st century, consumers have developed a growing interest in so called “traditional or artisanal” food. The renewed interest in this type of food is explained by consumers’ perception of these products. In fact, traditional food has a general positive image across Europe, and European consumers trade off the relative expense and time required for preparation of traditional food for its specific taste, quality, appearance, nutritional value, healthiness and safety (Almli et al., 2011 and Guerrero et al., 2009). Such food is often produced by small farms, and so the rural economy benefits from the increase in activity and profits through direct sales at local food markets (Berlin et al., 2009 and Carey et al., 2011).

Although the term “traditional foods” is widely used, the concept of traditional food products embraces different dimensions and there are hardly any definitions that clearly define traditional foods. In order to identify “traditional” foods, the EU legislation (EC, 2006a, EC, 2006b and EC, 2012) has defined criteria based on product designations that are linked to geographical origin or traditional production methods. In addition, the EuroFIR FP6 Network of Excellence provided a definition of traditional foods which includes statements about traditional ingredients, traditional composition and traditional type of production and/or processing method (Weichselbaum et al., 2009).

Among European countries, Italy is the lead producer of traditional foods and products such as foods with Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) or Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), followed by France, Spain, Portugal and Greece (ISMEA, 2013). Additionally, it is estimated that Italy has around 5000 traditional local food products without any certification (CIA, 2015), which could represent an important resource contributing to the development and sustainability of rural areas, providing ample variety in food choice for the consumer and a remarkable income for the economy. With its 371 typical products, Veneto Region is the fourth Italian Region according to number of traditional food products after Toscana, Campania and Lazio (Mipaaf, 2014). In addition, since 2007, Veneto Region has implemented regional legislation which defines a simplified procedure to sell small quantities of traditional food products at local level directly from the producer to the consumer (DGR, 2007 and DGR, 2008). In Veneto Region, many typical fermented sausages such as salami and soppresse are produced with traditional technologies, and so the legislation has been focused firstly on these products and subsequently on other types of meat products (poultry and rabbit meat) and products of non-animal origin (canned food; fruit juices; flour and dried vegetables; bread and bakery products; extra virgin olive oil).

In relation to fermented sausages, the legislation defines the production season, the maximum number of animals that can be reared and the minimum rearing period for pigs on the production farm as well as the minimum hygienic pre-requisites of the work areas used for processing pork meat into fermented sausages. Since these sausages are mainly produced following traditional practice in small processing units, starter cultures are not added to the minced pork meat and ripening is carried out in rooms with less temperature and relative humidity control than that used by industrial manufacturers. Therefore, deviations in temperature and/or humidity can result in insufficient fermentation-drying processes, meaning the absence of pathogens in the final products is not assured. The presence of food-borne pathogens such as Listeria monocytogenes, Escherichia coli O157, and Salmonella spp. in fermented sausages has been reported.

salamiConcerning L. monocytogenes, the pathogen was detected at the end of ripening in 40% of “Salsiccia Sarda” (a traditional Italian fermented sausage) with contamination levels always lower than 100 cfu/g ( Meloni et al., 2012), while a prevalence of 15% was reported in fermented sausages produced in northern Italy (De Cesare et al., 2007). Other studies conducted on traditional fermented sausages at the end of the ripening period showed a L. monocytogenes prevalence of 10% in France ( Thevenot et al., 2005), 16% in Spain (Martin et al., 2011), 42% in Greece (Gounadaki et al., 2008) and 60% in Portugal (Ferreira et al., 2007). The prevalence of Salmonella spp. in traditional fermented sausages is lower than Listeria: the presence of Salmonella was reported in two out of 38 batches of traditional Portuguese sausages (alheiras) ( Ferreira et al., 2007) and in three out of 21 (14%) batter samples of traditional Greek fermented sausages but not in the final products (ready to be sold) (Gounadaki et al., 2008). In relation to verocytotoxin-producing E. coli (VTEC), including E. coli serotype O157:H7, for which meat and meat products are considered the main source of infection for humans, an overall VTEC prevalence of 16% was found in fresh pork sausages collected in the southern part of Italy ( Villani et al., 2005).

In addition, food-borne outbreaks associated with the consumption of fermented meats are reported in the literature. In Veneto Region of Italy, in January 2004, a family outbreak of E. coli O157 infection caused by a dry-fermented traditional salami made with pork meat and produced in a local plant occurred ( Conedera et al., 2007). In Norway, an outbreak caused by E. coli O103:H25 involving 17 patients was attributed to the consumption of fermented sausages ( Sekse et al., 2009). Concerning Salmonella, an outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium DT104A involving 63 cases associated with the consumption of traditional pork salami was reported in Lazio Region of Italy ( Luzzi et al., 2007). Another outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium associated with the consumption of unripened salami was reported in Lombardia Region of Italy ( Pontello et al., 1998). L. monocytogenes outbreaks associated with the consumption of fermented sausages have not been reported, to our knowledge, even though L. monocytogenes has been implicated in several listeriosis outbreaks linked to the consumption of pre-sliced ready-to-eat deli meats ( Thevenot et al., 2006). The infective doses of the above-mentioned micro-organisms can vary widely according to several factors such as the strain, the susceptibility of the host, and the food matrix involved. In case of L. monocytogenes in susceptible individuals, it is unlikely that fewer than 1000 cells may cause disease ( EFSA, 2007). Concerning Salmonella the infective dose is variable but often low numbers of cells (between 10 and 1000) are sufficient to cause disease, the same for EHEC which is known for its low infective dose ( Strachan et al., 2005 and Teunis et al., 2010). The difference in dose-response relationship between the three pathogens may also, to some extent, explain the difference in stringency in surveillance. In European Regulation 2073/2005 (EC, 2005), tolerance of up to 100 cfu/g of L. monocytogenes in ready-to-eat meat products is accepted at the end of shelf life, whereas usually action limits of absence of Salmonella and EHEC per 25 g are applicable.

In order to avoid the marketing of potentially hazardous traditional fermented pork sausages (Italian salami and soppresse) produced within the Veneto region, this study was initiated by the regional competent authorities in collaboration with the small-scale producers with the following aims: a) investigate the production process of traditional salami and soppresse in Veneto Region of Italy; b) identify the microbiological hazards associated with this type of food, and finally; c) identify control measures easily applicable directly by the Food Business Operator (FBO) with the supervision and control of the regional Competent Authority (CA) in order to manage the hazards associated with this type of traditional meat product.

Artisanal Italian salami and soppresse: Identification of control strategies to manage microbiological hazards

Journal of Food Microbiology

Volume 61, February 2017, p. 5-13

Roccato, Anna. Et al.

Possums, birds and tank water in Queensland: A microbial risk

As Australians begin the workweek with a hung parliament after yet another federal election, I aptly turn my attention to the politicians of the rodent world: possums.

rainwater.brisbane.feb.14The Australian climate can be harsh, in a No-Country-for-Old-Men sorta way, with temperature extremes, flooding, followed by five years of drought.

So we have new-fangled rain barrels that my grandparents used to have in Ontario (ours, right, exactly as shown and I know there’s possums wandering around there at night because possum poop accumulates).

The rainwater is supposed to be used for toilets, dishes, laundry and other non-potable uses, but is there a risk (no drinking from the garden hose here)?

Here’s the most recent from researchers:

Avian and possum fecal droppings may negatively impact roof-harvested rainwater (RHRW) water quality due to the presence of zoonotic pathogens. This study was aimed at evaluating the performance characteristics of a possum feces-associated (PSM) marker by screening 210 fecal and wastewater samples from possums (n = 20) and a range of nonpossum hosts (n = 190) in Southeast Queensland, Australia.

The host sensitivity and specificity of the PSM marker were 0.90 and 0.95 (maximum value, 1.00), respectively. The mean concentrations of the GFD marker in possum fecal DNA samples (8.8 × 107 gene copies per g of feces) were two orders of magnitude higher than those in the nonpossum fecal DNA samples (5.0 × 105 gene copies per g of feces). The host sensitivity, specificity, and concentrations of the avian feces-associated GFD marker were reported in our recent study (W. Ahmed, V. J. Harwood, K. Nguyen, S. Young, K. Hamilton, and S. Toze, Water Res 88:613–622, 2016, The utility of the GFD and PSM markers was evaluated by testing a large number of tank water samples (n = 134) from the Brisbane and Currumbin areas. GFD and PSM markers were detected in 39 of 134 (29%) and 11 of 134 (8%) tank water samples, respectively. The GFD marker concentrations in PCR-positive samples ranged from 3.7 × 102 to 8.5 × 105 gene copies per liter, whereas the concentrations of the PSM marker ranged from 2.0 × 103 to 6.8 × 103 gene copies per liter of water. The results of this study suggest the presence of fecal contamination in tank water samples from avian and possum hosts. study has established an association between the degradation of microbial tank water quality and avian and possum feces. Based on the results, we recommend disinfection of tank water, especially for tanks designated for potable use.


The use of roof-harvested rainwater (RHRW) for domestic purposes is a globally accepted practice. The presence of pathogens in rainwater tanks has been reported by several studies, supporting the necessity for the management of potential health risks. The sources of fecal pollution in rainwater tanks are unknown. However, the application of microbial source tracking (MST) markers has the potential to identify the sources of fecal contamination in a rainwater tank. In this study, we provide evidence of avian and possum fecal contamination in tank water samples using molecular markers. This study established a potential link between the degradation of the microbial quality of tank water and avian and possum feces.

Evidence of avian and possum fecal contamination in rainwater tanks as determined by microbial source tracking approaches

Ahmed a, K. A. Hamilton a,b, P. Gyawali a,c, S. Toze a,c and C. N. Haas b

A CSIRO Land and Water, Ecosciences Precinct, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

B Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

C School of Public Health, University of Queensland, Herston, Queensland, Australia

Applied and Environmental Microbiology, Volume 82, Number 14, Pages 4379-4386, doi:10.1128/AEM.00892-16

Lots of recalls but ‘100 times more likely to detect an outbreak than 20 years ago’

Martin Wiedmann, a professor of food safety at Cornell University’s food science department, told CBC News we really are seeing far more food recalls and outbreaks these days, “But that doesn’t mean our food is less safe. It’s the opposite. What happened over the last 20 years and really accelerated over the last two years is the use of completely new DNA fingerprinting tools to detect disease outbreaks. Today, we are 100 times more likely to detect an outbreak than we were 20 years ago.”

riskHealth officials have developed a system to track the genetic makeup of salmonella, Listeria and E. coli. Once a food-related illness outbreak is identified, scientists can match the DNA from contaminated food with the bacteria making people sick, and potentially trace it to the originating food processing plant.

In light of that long list of recalls, and the fact that we’re detecting more outbreaks, shouldn’t they also be steering us away from salad and cantaloupes? After all, based on the recalls, they might sound like risky foods.

Wiedmann says that’s not really so. He points to the reason we see few cases of issues arising from raw milk consumption as an example of why.

“Much, much fewer people consume raw milk,” he said.

“So we don’t hear much about raw milk outbreaks. But we hear about outbreaks with lettuce, so [people think] lettuce must be less safe. Quite the opposite, because you need to consider the total amount of the food produced — what is your chance of getting sick from eating one of these servings.”

Wiedmann also points out that a recall isn’t the same as an outbreak. In most cases, food recalls are precautionary, and the products haven’t actually made anyone sick.

We call them outbreaks now because we can easily link a specific product in California, for example, with a handful of sick people in separate provinces or states, thanks to the DNA fingerprinting Wiedmann mentioned.

The bottom line, he says, is that those high-risk products health officials advise against, like unpasteurized cheese, are actually riskier than the products making news headlines.

A cheese that’s acceptable in the French countryside isn’t in urban Canada, largely because of our cultural biases.

“The challenge is that risk isn’t binary,” Wiedmann said.

“It’s just not like ‘risk’ or ‘no-risk.’ There’s a gradation… And then somewhere in the middle, someone puts a line. And that line is arbitrary, because no food is risk free.”

Artificial sweetener, Xylitol, risk to dogs

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, sugarless gum may contain xylitol, a class of sweetener known as sugar alcohol. Xylitol is present in many products and foods for human use, but can have devastating effects on your pet. the past several years, the Center for Veterinary Medicine at FDA has received several reports—many of which pertained to chewing gum—of dogs being poisoned by xylitol, according to Martine Hartogensis, a veterinarian at FDA.

But gum isn’t the only product containing xylitol. Slightly lower in calories than sugar, this sugar substitute is also often used to sweeten sugar-free candy, such as mints and chocolate bars. Other products that may contain xylitol include:

  • breath mints
  • baked goods
  • cough syrup
  • children’s and adult chewable vitamins
  • mouthwash
  • toothpaste

In both people and dogs, the level of blood sugar is controlled by the release of insulin from the pancreas. In people, xylitol does not stimulate the release of insulin from the pancreas. However, it’s different in canines: When dogs eat something containing xylitol, the xylitol is more quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, and may result in a potent release of insulin from the pancreas.

This rapid release of insulin may result in a rapid and profound decrease in the level of blood sugar (hypoglycemia), an effect that can occur within 10 to 60 minutes of eating the xylitol. Untreated, this hypoglycemia can quickly be life-threatening, Hartogensis says.

Symptoms of xylitol poisoning in dogs include vomiting, followed by symptoms associated with the sudden lowering of your dog’s blood sugar, such as decreased activity, weakness, staggering, incoordination, collapse and seizures.

If you think your dog has eaten xylitol, take him to your vet or an emergency animal hospital immediately, Hartogensis advises. Because hypoglycemia and other serious adverse effects may not occur in some cases for up to 12 to 24 hours, your dog may need to be monitored.

(A note to cat owners: The toxicity of xylitol for cats has not been documented. They appear to be spared, at least in part, by their disdain for sweets.)