When it comes to cleaning our dog’s dishes, many of us are falling short, potentially putting our four-legged friend’s health at risk, a new study finds.
“Pet feeding involves interplay between the pet, the owner, and the food,” writes the North Carolina State University team who conducted the research. “This interaction creates the opportunity for mutual exchange of microbial contaminants from food or water, dishes, and the food storage or preparation environment, which can cause health consequences for both humans and pets.”
Basically, by not washing our dog’s food and water bowls and/or properly sealing up their food, we are putting them at risk for potential foodborne illnesses due to bacteria growth.
And for most of us, we aren’t doing a great job.
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The team surveyed 417 dog owners and asked if they were aware of the Food and Drug Administration’s feeding guidelines around food safety. Less that 5 percent even knew the agency had guidelines, while less than 25 percent said they complied with the guidelines of washing hands before handling dog food and washing the dish and scoop after every use.
“It was found that the vast majority of study dog owners were not aware of and did not follow FDA pet food handling and storage guidelines,” the study’s authors said.
Twelve percent said they wash their dishes daily, while 22 percent said they wash their dishes, on average, once a week. And a whopping 18 percent reported that they washed their dish less than 3 months or not at all.
Some of the most common bacteria connected to dog food include salmonella, E. coli, and listeria, all of which can cause major health issues if left untreated — or even be deadly.
“Most pet owners are unaware that pet food bowls can be a hidden source of bacteria in the household,” the authors wrote. “Knowing how to mitigate this risk and practice proper pet food storage and hygiene may make for a happier, healthier household.”
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Here’s what the FDA recommends
Inspect food before you buy it: Make sure there are no signs of tears, dents, or damage.
Keep food in the original container: By doing so, you have access to the UPC code, lot number, brand, and manufacturer, in case an issue arises. Make sure the dog food is sealed up, as this helps with shelf life and ensuring bacteria can’t get in.
If you have another container, you keep food in, it’s a good idea to put the entire bag into it, or cut out the pertinent information and tape to container. Wash the container when empty.
Store in a cool place: Dry food should be stored in a cool, dry place, as moisture and heat can cause the nutrients to break down. Leftover wet food should be refrigerated immediately after using. Always make sure your dog doesn’t have access to it.
Wash hands: Wash your hands when you are handling dog food and treats — this includes before you feed your pup and after you handle the food. Count to 20 seconds and use soap and hot water.
Wash food and water bowls daily: Again, use hot water and soap. Make sure you scrub really hard, as some food, like raw, can seep into cracks and crevices. (If you notice any cracks in the bowl, get a new one.)
Use a clean utensil for scooping: Don’t use your dog’s food bowl as the scoop. Rather use an item specifically for the dog food. It can be a scoop, spoon, or cup. Wash after every use.
Discard of bad dog food the right way: If you have spoiled or expired dog food, secure it in tied bag and covered trash so no other animals can get to it.
The findings were recently published in the journal PLOS ONE.