It’s safe to say that Americans consider pets to be a pretty big deal. We love our furry friends, and their safety and wellbeing is a top priority. About 85 million families (approximately 67 percent of U.S. households) own a pet, according to the 2019-2020 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA). Those households spent about $36.9 billion on pet food and treats in 2019.
Just like human food, animal food is susceptible to contamination and can be dangerous if not properly vetted. Everything from Salmonella to Listeria monocytogenes and E. coli has been responsible for recent pet food recalls. These bacteria are dangerous for pets, causing severe illness and even death, and also pose risk to humans in the household.
One of the more common forms of pet food that is at high risk for contamination is raw pet food. Raw, meat-based pet diets are becoming more popular but put pets and people at risk of pathogenic and antimicrobial-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, according to recent research published in Royal Society Open Science. As pet owners handle their pets’ food, they are at risk of cross-contamination and illness in addition to the risk to the pets who eat it. Pets may also transmit bacteria to humans through contact, even if they don’t show any symptoms.
Testing to Identify Bacteria
Catching the contamination before going to market is the ultimate goal — for pet and public safety, for financial risk aversion, and to maintain trust in your organization. Pet food safety testing to identify microorganisms should be done by an experienced, certified pet food safety testing lab on a regular, scheduled basis.
Tests can be done to analyze ingredients as well as finished products. All pet food products, including dry food and treats as well as refrigerated, raw or wet foods, should be checked for Salmonella and E. coli if they contain meat or meat byproducts.
Wet and refrigerated pet foods are also at risk of Listeria monocytogenes contamination. Consuming products that contain Listeria can lead to severe harm, including sepsis, meningitis, spontaneous termination of pregnancy, and more in both animals and humans.
Canned pet foods, similar to canned people foods, may harbor certain bacteria that thrive in oxygen-deprived environments. Clostridium botulinum is the main concern with its potential to cause botulism intoxication, which can be lethal in animals and humans.
Testing for Quality and Labeling
Pet food safety goes beyond testing for contaminants. Many pets and pet owners rely on understanding exactly what’s in the pet food or treat to keep their animal healthy. Pets with conditions like diabetes, kidney failure, obesity, or liver disease may require special diets to assist with treatment. Some breeds require certain nutrients and calorie counts that others don’t.
That’s why accurate labeling is absolutely vital for pet food products. Ingredient identification and rancidity testing can help to ensure that your product is delivering the nutritional value that you claim. Regular testing of ingredients coming from all levels of the supply chain is ideal to catch issues as early as possible.
With a clear understanding of the origin and quality of ingredients, you can create accurate, reliable pet food labels that consumers can trust.
Partner with a Trusted Pet Food Safety Testing Lab
Pet food manufacturers, processors, and distributors should send products for testing on a regular, consistent schedule to make sure you’re evaluating production and addressing problems as early as possible. Make sure to package and label your samples carefully — wet food should be put in a cooler with ice packs to maintain internal temperature, and must be shipped overnight to the lab.
When testing and analyzing pet food products, it’s important to partner with a trusted lab that will get you accurate results, quickly. An effective lab will act with urgency, delivering test results rapidly to make sure the product wasn’t inadvertently exposed to adverse conditions or changes during transit.
Barrow-Agee Laboratories holds numerous microbiology and testing certifications, which hold us to strict standards that we adhere to. Our test result turnaround times are typically within five business days and are reported through a convenient online results portal as soon as they are available. Faster results mean our customers’ products get to shelves faster, increasing revenue and reducing downtime.
The pet food industry often is subject to recalls due to dangerous contaminants. To maintain the public and pet health (and protect your bottom line), it’s important to stay vigilant and regularly test your products.