Steve Dale, USA WEEKEND contributing editor, has the scoop on pet food recalls and how to protect yourself and your pet.
The bad news: Pet owners again must navigate recalls of pet food. The good news: This recall – though widespread – is greatly limited to brands produced in one facility. Though some consumers are frightened, this is not a repeat of the 2007 mass recall on deadly pet foods.
During the 2007 recall, pets were sickened and some died (to this day, no one knows how many). In this recall, no pets have been reported ill but 16 people in nine states and one Canadian province are verified to have contracted salmonella poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
An outbreak of human illness
The CDC is taking the human illnesses seriously, having labeled them an outbreak and even issuing an online alert.
It took just over a month for CDC officials, working in tandem with others in public health, to link the illness to salmonella by using DNA fingerprints, and then salmonella to the pet foods.
CDC scientists suggest that for every confirmed case reported to the agency, at least 16 are not reported. “This only could be the tip of the iceberg,” says veterinary epidemiologist Casey Barton Behravesh, leader of the CDC outbreak response team.
8 brands in the recall
It seems clear this outbreak is limited to one Diamond Pet Food Plant in Gaston, S.C., where many brands are manufactured. In addition to Diamond, brands affected are Wellness, Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul, Solid Gold, CANIDAE, Natural Balance, Apex Pet Foods and Kirkland (the Costco brand).
The problem, says Dan McChesney, director of the Office of Surveillance and Compliance at the Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine, is that “the product, dry food in particular, is so susceptible to bacteria because of the high protein level and because it’s treated with flavoring.” This is like putting a condiment on a burger, but in manufacturing that flavoring is often where contamination occurs. There are 2,500 types of salmonella, and the one identified in this outbreak, Salmonella Infantis, is very uncommon.
The big food recall in 2007 was very different, says Duane Ekedahl, president of the Washington D.C.-based Pet Food Institute. “Horribly, pets were dying, and it proved to be as a result of criminal adulteration.” Melamine and cyanuric acid were added to the affected pet food products in China to mask protein. The combination of melamine and cyanuric acid sickened countless pets and killed others.
How to protect yourself
Pet food can cause salmonella transmission when people touch tainted kibble and then fail to wash their hands. “Hand washing is the most important thing you can do to protect yourself and your family,” Barton Behravesh says. Pet owners should also wash hands after scooping the litter box or picking up after the dog in the yard.
Though unlikely, a dog can transmit salmonella by offering a big wet dog kiss following a meal of tainted food. Similarly, salmonella can potentially spread to people who pet a cat who has groomed himself after eating contaminated food.
How to learn about recalls
Please consult reputable Internet sites to learn about recalls.
- FDA’s pet recall list. Unfortunately, even the FDA doesn’t always include all brands on its site and may not be perfectly up to date.
- In this instance, Diamond Pet Foods offers information. Sadly, you can’t depend on manufacturers or stores to post information.
- Dog Food Advisor. This is a good site that tracks dog foods recalled.
And I attempt to keep up on pet food recalls my blog, www.chicagonow.com/stevedale.
A non-salmonella recall of cat food
Making matters more still more disconcerting for consumers, Nestle Purina PetCare announced a voluntary recall on May 11 of one specific lot of Purina Veterinary Diet, OM (Overweight Management) canned cat food, available through veterinarians in the U.S. and Canada.
This precautionary measure was being taken in response to one consumer complaint received by FDA. Analytical testing of the product sample by FDA indicated a low level of thiamine (vitamin B1). Purina has received no other complaints of thiamine-related or any other health issues related to this product. Cats fed this affected lot exclusively for several weeks may be at risk for developing a thiamine deficiency. The Purina recall of the overweight diet for cats in unrelated to the various recalls at the Diamond plant prompted by salmonella concerns.
Steve Dale is a certified dog/cat behavior consultant and contributing editor USA WEEKEND. Steve’s a syndicated newspaper columnist and radio host, and his latest e-books are Good Dog! and Good Cat! Read more about him here.