During casual 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 Emily Luisana, a coauthor of the study and small animal veterinary nutritionist. “Once we realized that (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 for Tailored, a pet nutrition expert-led dog food company. Caitlyn Getty, another coauthor of the study, is the scientific affairs veterinarian for NomNomNow Inc., a company focused on pet gut health and suitable food. Neither company funded this study, and the authors didn’t report any competing interests. The study’s focus is owners’ handling of any dog food, not the food brands themselves.
Awareness vs. action
The researchers found 4.7% of 417 surveyed dog owners 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) of human food, 34% washed their hands after feeding and 33% prepared their dog food on prep surfaces intended for human use.
Group B had to follow FDA food handling tips for both pets and humans, which also required handwashing for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water; scraping food off dishes before washing; washing dishes with soap and water hotter than 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 C) for at least 30 seconds, drying thoroughly with a clean towel, or using a National Sanitation Foundation-certified dishwasher for washing and drying.
Group C wasn’t given any instructions but was told when the second swabbing would happen.
The contamination of the bowls in Group C increased between swabbings. None of the Group C owners had washed their dogs’ bowls within the eight or so days since the authors collected the first bacterial sample, “even though they were made aware that FDA guidelines existed and the bowl would be sampled again,” Luisana said.
“This shows that bringing awareness of the current recommendations is not sufficient in itself,” she added.
Lowering contamination risk
The authors said they think this education is especially important for vulnerable populations, such as people who are immunocompromised.
However, 20% of people from groups A and B in the current study said they were likely to follow hygiene instructions long term, and even fewer — 8% — said they were likely to follow all given guidelines.
“Our study shows that pet owners look to their veterinarian, pet food store and pet food manufacturers for information about pet food storage and hygiene guidelines,” Luisana said. Pet food companies studying their foods in both laboratory conditions and household settings, then giving storage and handling recommendations on labels or websites, would be a strong start, she added.