The pet food recalls that I am talking about happen in the USA. I suspect the manufacturers are more open about problems or even potential problems in America and for this reason the pet food recalls become more widely known. If this is the case it is great for cats and humans alike because sometimes the recall can be because of a contaminant that cut across species (e.g. Salmonella).
One of the recent pet food recalls occured in the USA because of suspected salmonella contamination in dry pet food. The company is Mars Petcare US. The company voluntarily stopped production at one of their manufacturing plants (at the Everson facility) on July 29, 2008. That is some time ago in fact. The company seemed to have made a connection with their product and two people who were infected with (poisoned by) Salmonella Schwarzengrund.
There is a long list of products (or at least it looks long), which can be seen on the Mars recall page. What is Salmonella poisoning and how is the food contaminated? These are the questions that pass through my mind when I read about these events.
Food borne illness (or more commonly called food poisoning) is caused by poor food handling storage or preparation either at home or in manufacture. Salmonella:
"Salmonella is a genus of rod-shaped Gram-negative enterobacteria that causes typhoid fever, paratyphoid fever, and foodborne illness"(src: Wikipedia published under GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version). To put it in simpler language it is a bacteria that causes illness. Bacteria are microscopic living creatures. Some are useful to us and some not. Bacteria is everywhere. Salmonella poisoning is the most common type of food poisoning (src: http://www.fsis.usda.gov). It causes about 500 deaths on 1.4 million infections annual in the USA (src: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC))
Salmonella poisoning can be prevented by proper sanitization of preparation surfaces and proper cooking of food. Cooking food above a certain temperature kills the bacteria. 140 F or 60 C will do the trick. Cooking above 75 C will kills all harmful bacteria apparently (src: http://askville.amazon.com). Clearly pet food recalls would be eliminated if this was always the case.
The USA Food and Drug Administration make recommendations on handling pet food. It is called "Safe Handling Tips for Pet Foods and Treats". I have never considered the need to practice safe handling of pet food. They remind us that pet food (like other foods) can be susceptible to harmful bacteria contamination.
In order to minimize food borne illness the FDA recommend (my summary):
- buy products in good condition
- wash hands before handling pet food (not many will do this!)
- wash bowls properly and regularly
- dispose of old pet food safely
- refrigerate promptly at 40F
- store dry food below 80F in a dry place
- keep pets away from storage areas and waste areas
- store pet food in the original container and inside another container if feasible
- the FDA don't recommend preparing your own raw pet food (my comment: this though is the best kind provided it is done properly)