Consumer interest in providing pets a fresh raw meat diet has been growing over the past few years, and there are more brands of raw pet food on the market. However, this trend is also resulting in another trend that could be hazardous to your health.

There have been at least 79 pet food recalls from 2018 to 2019. More than 60 percent of these pet food recalls were because of bacterial contamination with pathogenic E. coli (STEC), Salmonella, or Listeria monocytogenes. Sixteen percent of these recalls were raw pet food. Although the number of raw pet food recalls may seem minor overall, raw pet food only makes up about 2 percent of the market share for pet food sales.

From 2011 to 2012, the Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine screened more than 1,000 samples of pet food for contamination with pathogenic bacteria. Of 196 raw pet food samples, 15 tested positive for Salmonella, while another 32 tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes. This is compared to one sample of dry cat food testing positive for Salmonella out of 120 samples. The remaining 740 samples, which were taken from semi-moist dog and cat food, dry dog food, exotic pet food and jerky treats, were negative for both of these harmful bacteria.

One of the biggest concerns with contamination of pet food is the risk it poses to humans. STEC, Salmonella or Listeria monocytogenes are all pathogenic to humans and can cause serious disease, sometimes resulting in death.

STEC infections can cause severe stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea and vomiting. Although most people recover in five to seven days, 5 percent to 10 percent of people infected will develop hemolytic uremic syndrome, which is a life-threatening infection.

Salmonella infections result in diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. Although symptoms usually last four to seven days, illnesses can result in hospitalization, and a small percentage of illnesses results in death. Infection with Listeria monocytogenes is especially concerning since it has a 20-percent to 30-percent mortality rate. Although this pathogen usually causes mild illness in most individuals, pregnant women and their newborns, adults age 65 or older, and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to suffer from severe complications, including death, from infection.

For those who wish to continue feeding their pets a raw diet, the FDA has provided the following tips to pet owners to prevent infection when handling raw pet food.

  • Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water (for at least 20 seconds) after handling raw pet food, and after touching surfaces or objects that have come in contact with the raw food, including kitchen utensils, feeding bowls and cutting boards.
  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect all surfaces and objects that come in contact with raw pet food. First wash with hot soapy water and then follow with a disinfectant (1 tablespoon bleach to 4 cups water), or run items through the dishwasher after each use to clean and disinfect them.
  • Freeze raw meat and poultry products until you are ready to use them. Although freezing will not destroy bacteria, it will help to stop the growth of these organisms. Only thaw food in your refrigerator or microwave. Thawing on your countertop or in your sink may spread pathogens to these surfaces and allow harmful bacteria to grow rapidly in the food.
  • Carefully handle raw and frozen meat and poultry products. Never rinse raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood as the juices can splash and spread bacteria to other food and surfaces.
  • Keep raw food separate from other food.
  • Immediately cover and refrigerate what your pet doesn’t eat or discard leftovers. Do not allow the food to sit at room temperature for prolonged periods.
  • When making your own pet food from raw ingredients, be sure to cook all food to a proper internal temperature as measured by a food thermometer to kill harmful bacteria.
  • Don’t kiss your pet around its mouth, and don’t let your pet lick your face, especially after your pet has just finished eating raw food.
  • Thoroughly wash your hands (or face) after touching or being licked by your pet.

For more information on raw pet food, visit these shortened web links: the FDA website — bit.ly/2MQ3DrL; the CDC website — bit.ly/2uew9N9; and this link at the USDA website — bit.ly/36l8bOi.


Stephanie Smith is an assistant professor and statewide consumer food specialist for Washington State University Extension. She can be reached at food.safety@wsu.edu. If you have a food safety question you would like to see appear in this column, send your question to us at food.safety@wsu.edu.

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