How to protect pets’ bowls from bacterial contaminants

There have been multiple outbreaks of illness among humans after exposure to dog food contaminated with E. coli and salmonella, most likely in commercial and homemade raw food diets. These diets typically involve the need to prepare pet food in the kitchen, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE.
However, guidelines on how owners should safely handle pet food and dishes are limited, and their effectiveness is unclear, so the authors of the new study investigated the eating habits of dog owners and analyzed the impact of US Food and Drug Administration hygiene protocols on contamination of dog food bowls.

During informal conversations among veterinary nutritionists, “we realized that when it came to our own pets, we all had different pet food storage and hygiene practices,” said study co-author Emily Luisana, a small animal veterinary nutritionist. “Once we realized that the (FDA) recommendations were relatively unknown even among professionals, we wanted to see what other pet owners were doing.”

Luisana is on the veterinary advisory board of Tailored, a dog food company run by pet nutrition experts. Caitlyn Getty, another study co-author, is the scientific affairs veterinarian for NomNomNow Inc., a company focused on pet gut health and proper nutrition. Neither company funded this study, and the authors did not report any competing interest. The focus of the study is the handling of any dog ​​food by owners, not the food brands themselves.

awareness versus action

The researchers found that 4.7% of the 417 dog owners surveyed were aware of the FDA’s pet food handling and dish hygiene guidelines: 43% of participants stored dog food within 5 feet (1.5 meters) from human food, 34% washed their hands after eating, and 33% prepared dog food on preparation surfaces intended for human use.

Fifty owners (of a total of 68 dogs) participated in an approximately eight-day bowl contamination experiment. The authors sampled the bowls for bacterial populations, known as aerobic plate counts, and then divided the owners into three groups: Group A followed FDA advice, which included washing hands before and after handling pet food and not using the serving bowl, washing the bowl and scooping utensils with soap and hot water after use, disposing of uneaten food in designated manner, and storing dry pet food in its original bag.

Group B had to follow FDA food handling advice for both pets and humans, which also required washing hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water; scrape food off dishes before washing them; wash dishes with soap and water over 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 C) for at least 30 seconds, dry thoroughly with a clean towel, or use a National Sanitation Foundation-certified dishwasher for washing and drying.

Group C was given no instructions, but was told when the second swab would occur.

The practices followed by Groups A and B led to significant reductions in food plate contamination, compared to Group C, the study found. Dishes washed with hot or dishwasher water had a 1.5 unit decrease on the contamination scale compared to those washed with cold or warm water. The “U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting human dishes are based on achieving a 5-log reduction in bacterial counts,” the authors wrote. A 1.5 log reduction is equivalent to a 90% to 99% reduction in microorganisms; a 5 log reduction means that 99.999% of the microorganisms have died.
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Contamination of bowls in Group C increased between swabs. None of the owners in Group C had washed their dog’s bowls in the eight days since the authors collected the first bacterial sample, “despite knowing that the FDA guidelines existed and that the bowl would be re-sampled.” “Louisiana said.

“This shows that publicizing the current recommendations is not enough in itself,” he added.

Reduced risk of contamination

The authors said they believe this education is especially important for vulnerable populations, such as people who are immunocompromised.

Pet food bowls have been ranked among the most contaminated household items, sometimes even with bacterial loads approaching those of toilet bowls, according to studies published over the last 15 years.

However, 20% of people in groups A and B in the current study said they were likely to follow long-term hygiene instructions, and even fewer, 8%, said they were likely to follow all of the guidelines given.

“Our study shows that pet owners turn to their veterinarian, pet food store and pet food manufacturers for information on pet food storage and hygiene guidelines,” Luisana said. Pet food companies that study their foods in both laboratory conditions and home settings, and then provide storage and handling recommendations on labels or websites, would be a good start, she added.

More study is needed on the implications, but Luisana said she hopes pet owners and veterinarians will use the findings of this study to consider the impact that feeding hygiene might have on the health and happiness of pets, immunocompromised people and zoonotic diseases, those that are transmitted between animals and people.

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