FSA assesses raw pet food risk to animals and people

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has analyzed the risk to dogs and cats from eating contaminated raw pet food and the impact on the people who feed them such products.

Raw pet food has become increasingly popular in recent years. Such items are made from Category 3 Animal-By-Products (ABP) that have been passed fit for human consumption in a slaughterhouse but are surplus to requirements. They do not undergo cooking or heat treatment so that the end product can be contaminated with pathogens. The majority are sold frozen and typically have a best-before date of over one year.

The assessment considers the risk of dogs and cats acquiring Salmonella, beta-glucuronidase-positive E. coli, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), Campylobacter, and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection from contaminated products. It also covers the risk of infection to animal owners by handling these products at home or via transmission from an infected pet.

There is uncertainty around the prevalence and symptoms of clinical infection in companion animals and how raw pet food products are handled, stored, and prepared in the home. The number of pet owners in vulnerable categories using raw pet food is also unclear.

A recent survey by the FSA to test raw dog and cat food products on retail sale in the UK from March 2023 to February 2024 detected a high prevalence of these pathogens. Full findings have yet to be published, but results from 306 out of 380 samples show that 20 percent were positive for Salmonella, 11 percent for Campylobacter, 9 percent for MRSA, and 11 percent for STEC.

This survey also found that packaging advice varied greatly among manufacturers. Some product labels contained instructions such as washing hands after handling and storing away from human food. However, other labels had no handling instructions.

Risk by pathogen
FSA guidance on raw pet food includes hygiene practices such as washing hands after handling, storing products away from human food, and cleaning all surfaces in contact with the product. Poor handling and hygiene practices can lead to cross-contamination and possible human infection.

In August 2017, four people were infected with genetically related strains of STEC O157:H7. One person died after developing hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Interviews with cases revealed that three of them had been exposed to dogs fed on a raw meat-based diet, specifically tripe. In two cases, the tripe had been purchased from the same supplier.

The risk to dogs and cats from consuming Salmonella-contaminated raw pet food is medium, meaning it occurs regularly, with a medium level of uncertainty.

The risk to these animals of consuming Campylobacter-contaminated raw pet food is considered low, meaning it is rare but does occur. For STEC, the risk to dogs was judged to be low and very low for cats.

The risk to pet owners of Salmonella, Campylobacter, and STEC infection from handling contaminated products in the home is considered low. The likelihood of human exposure would depend on the hygiene practices when handling feed and clearing feces.

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