Salmonella in dry pet food -- a risk for kids

Well, do I recall the time my kid, about 6 months old, crawled toward me across the kitchen floor then opened her sweet little mouth to reveal…a big wad of chewed-up wet cat food.

I think it was around this time that I decided that sterilizing bottles would no longer be my highest priority. (For my mother, decades earlier, the “Eureka!” moment came when she caught my younger brother eating an earthworm.)

My kid was far from atypical, it appears, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and health departments in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio that was published in the journal Pediatrics. In that case, however, the pet food in question was dry dog and cat food and the consequences a lot more severe – because the food, from a manufacturing facility referred to as Plant X in the paper, was contaminated with salmonella bacteria.

The authors identified 79 cases in 21 states (no one died) over a three-year period and noted that most of the cases were in kids and fully 48% of the cases were in kids under 2. (Aside from those obscenely expensive iced dog bones from Three Dog Bakery — and who can afford them? -- I don’t find my pets’ food tempting these days.) The authors say that the finding underscores the need to properly store and handle pet food. They say it’s a first for a link between dry pet food and salmonella food poisoning.

Here’s the abstract of the Pediatrics article about the pet food salmonella outbreak. (The journal makes you pay to read more.) The salmonella strain, by the way, was not your typical salmonella associated with food poisoning but a different one called Salmonella Schwarzengrund.

For more – lots more! – about salmonella, from a lawyer with a specialization in food safety, go to the About Salmonella blog by Bill Marler.

And here’s an informative 2009 story about the science of salmonella (albeit not Schwarzengrund precisely) by our own Karen Kaplan.

Finally, some tips from the CDC on ways to cut down on this possible contamination source:

  • Wash hands for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap right after handling dry pet foods and treats.
  • Wash hands before preparing food and before eating.
  • Keep infants away from pet feeding areas. Do not allow them to touch or eat dog food.

--Rosie Mestel / Los Angeles Times