A government report released last month warns that children can get sick from dog food. This report details the first known salmonella outbreak in humans, mostly young children, linked to pet food. The outbreak sickened 79 people in 21 mostly eastern states, between 2006 and 2008. Almost half of the victims were children age two and younger.
Dry pet foods are an under-recognized source of salmonella infections in humans, and it’s likely other illnesses are unknowingly caused by tainted pet food, according to Dr. Casey Barton Behravesh, the report’s lead author and a researcher at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Food and Drug Administration data shows that at least six unrelated pet food recalls have been issued this year by manufacturers because of possible salmonella contamination. According to the FDA there have been no reported salmonella illnesses linked to pet food since the 2006-08 outbreak.
A report about the outbreak was published online on August 9th by the medical journal Pediatrics. There have been no known cases of human salmonella linked with wet pet food. The outbreak was blamed on salmonella bacteria found in several brands of dry dog and cat food produced at a Mars Petcare plant in Pennsylvania, including Pedigree and Special Kitty brands.
While young children were most often affected, there’s no evidence that they got sick by eating pet food. They probably became infected by touching affected animals or dirty pet food dishes, and then putting their hands in their mouths. Symptoms included bloody diarrhea and fever. At least 11 people were hospitalized, but fortunately, none died. There were no reports of sick animals, but investigators found salmonella bacteria in stool samples from pets, without symptoms, that had eaten tainted food.
The company recalled pet food made at the plant and permanently shuttered the plant in 2008 after an investigation failed to identify how the contamination occurred. Mars subsequently improved training and testing practices at its 17 U.S. plants, according to the company regulatory director, Jill Franks.
Heating during pet food manufacturing generally kills salmonella germs. Contamination may have occurred during a later process when food pellets were sprayed with flavor enhancers. The study authors advise pediatricians to ask about contact with pets at doctor visits and when evaluating infectious disease symptoms. To reduce infection risks at home, it was recommended:
• Hands should be washed after contact with pets, pet food and pet bowls.
• Pet food bowls and feeding areas should be changed regularly.
• Children younger than age five should be kept away from pet food and feeding areas.
• Pets’ food and water dishes should be cleaned in a separate sink or tub, not in the kitchen or bathtub.
• Avoid bathing infants in the kitchen sink.
Sources: Associated Press and CBS News
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