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Proper food handling keeps your pets safe

There have been a few advisories issued in the pet industry recently, regarding reptile-keeping and salmonella. Apparently there have been issues with some contaminated, frozen feeder rodents; people have handled the feeders and subsequently the reptiles being infected with the bacteria.

Which brings up the discussion, how do we safely buy food for and feed our animals?

This example illustrates that questionably sourced food, handled unsafely, is dangerous. It does not say that all reptiles are salmonella dangers, nor that anyone keeping reptiles who feed live or frozen thawed rodents will catch salmonella. I have kept and bred reptiles for decades, and never had an issue with salmonella.

There are safe ways to care for animals, and there are unsafe ways. The safe way takes thought, planning and care.

The key point here is that there are safe ways to care for animals, and there are unsafe ways. The safe way takes thought, planning and equipment. These should not be considered extra effort — rather they should be considered the appropriate effort. Sure, you can buy cheap feed, handle and/or defrost it improperly, and feed it in the animal’s enclosure. That’s the lazy way to do things, and also the dangerous way. It’s how you and your animals end up sick.

Buying good quality feeders, from reputable sources, and making sure they are clean and fresh when purchased may take more effort and expense, but it’s the safe thing to do. Keeping them frozen on the way home and storing them properly in your freezer until use is, again, more work, but it is the safe thing to do. A simple newspaper wrapped around feeders will keep them frozen and will reduce “freezer burn” and potential bacteria growth when stored in a frost-free freezer.

Thawing feeders properly and quickly in a warm-water bath (in a plastic bag so they don’t get wet), then using a separate feeding enclosure (a simple Rubbermaid tub is safe and easy to clean) limits possible contamination of your animal’s habitat. Again, this is the appropriate effort to ensure the safety of pets and owners.

Salmonella is literally everywhere in our world, and we are generally aware of the things that pose an infection issue. Ground beef and raw poultry are the best-known sources. No one would ever consider handling either of those items without either wearing food-handling gloves that are disposed of immediately, or thoroughly washing your hands and the handling surfaces with soap and water after handling.

Where we get into trouble is when handling lesser-known items that can carry bacteria. Eggs, uncooked meats, seafood, unwashed veggies, raw milk, even flour can all carry salmonella, E. coli, listeria, or other bad bugs. For pet keepers, pet food (dry, canned or raw) and pet treats (cookies, pig’s ears, pizzles, rawhides, etc.) can all carry bacteria, and you need to follow safe handling procedures for anything you buy to feed your pet.

People who feed raw food to their pets are hyper-aware of safe handling, because, well, it’s raw meat. But dry foods can also carry salmonella. Millions of pounds of kibble have been recalled for salmonella contamination. The first treat recall I ever saw in my time in the industry was for pig’s ears. Again, we are all tempted to buy the least expensive food or treats for our pets, but many are from companies that use offshore materials or manufacturing, and many have a record of recalls. Saving a few pennies is not worth putting your family or your pets at risk.

Here is a link to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s safe handling guidelines for dry pet food and treats:

There is no magical process that makes pet food or treats 100 per cent safe to handle without proper precautions. Regardless of what pet you have, or what you feed it, make sure you know the safe way to do so, for the sake of the pet, and your family.