Practicing Raw Dog Food Safety Measures
By Patrick Mahaney, DVM
So you want to feed your dog raw food. It is important that you follow certain steps when storing, handling, and serving the raw food. Valid health concerns do exist for your dog and your family or other animal household members if a raw food is contaminated by an illness inducing microorganism. But these situations can be mitigated.
First, you should consult your veterinarian and discuss if raw food is right for your dog. Second, it is important to realize that not every raw food contains organisms capable of causing disease. Additionally, a dog’s immunity, especially the defensive cellular and chemical processes that occur in the intestines, is a complex process.
Storing Raw Dog Food
You store raw dog food much in the same way you store your own raw food such as hamburger patties and chicken — place it in secure packaging, such as a covered plastic container, and store it in the freezer. This will help deter bacterial growth and reduce spoiling. Furthermore, keeping raw food frozen at a consistent temperature of 0 °F will prevent the growth of microbes — including mold and yeast — as well as slow down the natural activity of enzymes present in food, including meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables. Portions of store bought raw food, for example, can be placed in individual containers to promote easy serving and to pair each container with the corresponding expiration date as determined by the food’s manufacturer.
If you should choose to refrigerate the raw dog food, it must be maintained at a temperature that is consistently 40 °F or below. According to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), “bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 40 and 140 °F, the "Danger Zone," some doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes. A refrigerator set at 40 °F or below will protect most foods.
If the food’s temperature increases to 40° or above for two hours or more, you are advised to discard it because there is a strong likelihood that pathogenic bacteria (Campylobacter, E. coli, Listeria, Salmonella, etc.) will grow. Pathogenic bacteria don’t necessarily affect the smell, flavor, or consistency of food, but they can cause foodborne illness.
Handling and Serving Raw Dog Food
It is best to take care when handling raw dog food. Any surface the raw food touches, including kitchen counters, cutting boards, knives, food bowls, or your hands, may become contaminated if the food contains a pathogenic organism. The FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service) recommends:
- Washing your “hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or and after handling food.”
- Running “cutting boards and utensils through the dishwasher or wash them in hot soapy water after each use.”
- Keeping “countertops clean by washing them with hot soapy water after preparing food.”
When serving a raw food, it should be taken out of the freezer and refrigerated or left at room temperature just for a time sufficient for defrosting. Additionally, only the portion for one to two meals should be defrosted.
Educate your family about how to properly store and prepare raw dog food, but only have adults be responsible for feeding raw food to dogs. Children tend to be less reliable in their sanitary habits. If everyone uses common sense and follows these guidelines you will be one step closer to keeping yourself and your family (both furry and non-furry members alike) safe from bacteria and other disease-causing organisms.
Image: Robert S. Donovan / via Flickr