The FDA’s Raw Food Testing – Logic vs Fear
Summary: The FDA has announced they will actively test raw pet foods in retail stores for salmonella, E. coli, and listeria, and will recall any foods found positive. The risk of serious illness or death from these contaminants is extremely small. Simple safe food handling techniques and clean sourcing can eliminate the risk of bacterial contamination. This attack on raw pet food will accomplish nothing towards the goal of public safety and will result is a loss of consumer confidence, increased cost of food and more ammo for the AVMA to misinform the traditional veterinary sector about the “risks” of raw pet food.
— By Aspen Anderson, Director of Retailer and Consumer Relations, Steve’s Real Food
The average consumer’s reaction to the word “recall”
Recently, I received a notice in the mail from my local grocery store informing me that a product I’d purchased was part of a food recall. My heart jumped and my head immediately went haywire. “Oh, no! A food recall! You know it’s bad if they issue a food recall!
What’s wrong with my food?
I‘d better check my freezer. Yep, there they are, my delicious veggie burgers.
OH MY GOSH I ALREADY ATE SOME OF THEM! AM I GOING TO DIE?
How am I feeling right now?
Do I feel deathly?
I know I just went to the gym and felt fine, but there could be some life-killing bacteria growing in me RIGHT NOW!”
I went to throw out the offending food, but as I reached for the garbage can, I hesitated. “But…they are so expensive…and so yummy…I know they are high in sodium, but I only eat half at a time so they aren’t that unhealthy…and…and…”
In the end I put them back into my freezer, unable to deal with the emotional trauma of disposing of the unused deliciousness. Two weeks went by, and I still hadn’t thrown them away. Finally chancing upon a free moment, I checked the internet to see just how much of an idiot I was for not using a hazmat suit when touching the veggie burger box.
The recall was for potential peanut contamination.
Peanuts. Now I realize that this is an important recall, because I myself have known people with deadly peanut allergies. But I’m not allergic to peanuts, there was no risk to my health or well-being and no reason I could not safely eat the rest of my hoard. Suddenly I felt a bit sheepish about my “AM I GOING TO DIE” reaction. Over peanuts.
The summer of testing
This summer, raw dog food advocates will tremble in their boots for that dreaded word, “recall”.
The FDA, as usual more of a hindrance than a help to real food advocates, announced on June 3, 2015, that they’re going to do a widespread pull of raw pet food from retail locations and run tests for salmonella, listeria, and E. coli.
Any foods containing traces of these bacteria will likely be recalled, causing increased costs for manufacturers and possibly a halt in production, resulting in inventory loss. Because of the public fear of that word “recall,” the results can be devastating, not only for the affected company, but also for every individual who believes the scientific and anecdotal evidence that a raw diet is healthier than chemically-laden kibble from a big box store.
But like my own overreaction to my precious veggie burgers (they really are so good…I’m not even a vegetarian), the gut reaction to the fear of a recall can be countered with correct information.
If every raw food advocate, every retail store employee, and every holistic vet could share a little perspective and education about the real risks (or lack thereof) behind the inevitable recalls, we have the power to push back against the big businesses and choose for ourselves to feed our pets the way they were meant to be fed.
How risky is it on a scale of “meh” to “hazmat”?
So what are the facts?
What are they really looking for in this witch hunt, and how dangerous is it?
According to the FDA’s statement, the concern is that “even if the pets do not appear to be sick after consuming raw pet foods containing pathogens … they can become carriers of such pathogens and transfer the pathogens to the environment. Humans can be infected by contacting pathogens in the contaminated environment. Raw pet foods containing pathogens can also contaminate food contact surfaces and human hands that increase the risk of human exposure.”
They go on to say that,
The FDA does not believe raw meat foods for animals are consistent with the goal of protecting the public from significant health risks, particularly when such products are brought into the home and/or used to feed domestic pets.
This sounds like the beginning of 28 Days Later – RAW FOOD WILL KILL US ALL!
But let’s look at the numbers.
The CDC reports that in 2009-2010, 23 people were killed by listeria, salmonella, and E. coli combined. To put that in perspective, NBC News reported that in 2013, a record low of 23 people were – wait for it – killed by lightning.
Their article notes, “the idea of getting struck by lightning has always been equated to something rare and unlikely.”
Perhaps we should start replacing “Killed by salmonella” where we would otherwise say “struck by lightning,” since it is even less likely. Or, since it is worth $199,254,000 to protect the American public from the risk of listeria, e. coli, and salmonella (according to the FDA’s 2013 budget request), it would make logical sense to institute a program of mass-lightning rod installations across the country with equal funding, as it would save even more lives.
I do not say this to imply that food safety is not important.
It absolutely is important.
But the low risk considered, I think we can be safely left to manage ourselves. On top of the low risk, you have facts: the Merck Veterinary Manual notes that 21 to 41 percent of raw chicken for HUMANS is contaminated with Salmonella, and 36 percent of healthy dogs and 70 percent of healthy cats, regardless of their diet, have salmonella bacteria in their digestive system anyway.
So as Dr. Marty Goldstein told Dogs Naturally Magazine in 2014, if you don’t want to get salmonella poisoning when feeding your dog a raw diet, “Don’t lick their butts.”
Testing from the FDA and recalls on raw companies are going to do absolutely nothing to protect us from exposure to these contaminants, becauuse they are everywhere anyway.
Want more RAW material? Here’s the truth behind raw eggs for your dog! Click here!
We can protect ourselves
Raw food advocates tend to be an educated bunch, and we are capable of taking the simple precautions necessary to protect ourselves and our families without turning to the nutritional wasteland of kibble, whose manufacturers are actually doing an even worse job at keeping their “food”bacteria free.
When you cook a chicken for your children, you take certain steps to protect your family: you wash your hands after handling the food and you disinfect surfaces the raw meat came in contact with. There’s no reason that those same precautions won’t safely protect your family when handling raw meat for your dog.
As noted above, the FDA’s concern is that our pets are carriers, and that even though the pet “does not look ill” (because their bodies are biologically designed to eat raw meat) “they can become carriers and transfer the pathogens to the environment.”
There are two main ways your dog or cat could transfer these pathogens.
- The first and most obvious is through their feces – and I sincerely hope that every pet parent is taking the same precautions with their dog’s poop as they are with their raw meat, thereby eliminating any risk.
- The other is through the dog’s saliva. The chance of contamination does exist and if you are the type of person who won’t eat raw cookie dough, then you may not want to let your dog kiss you on the mouth, to prevent that transfer of germs. If you are the type who enjoys a good lick of that comforting, heartwarming, yummy goodness, (am I referring to the cookie dough or the dog?), the risk is about the same – extremely small.
Sourcing and call to action
[box type=”info”]A final note about reducing risk: consumers should be careful to know the sourcing of the meats in their raw pet food. They want to look for free-range, cage-free, and grass-fed sources. In reality, while pet food companies and retailers are the ones punished by recalls, the real start of contamination comes during the animal’s life. Sourcing from clean, sanitary farms where the animals are not packed closely together reduces much of the risk the bacteria will exist in the first place.[/box]
Ultimately, the FDA mass testing that will take place this summer is, in reality, a mountain that should be – and could be – made a molehill.
It is more about creating fear to push people away from the raw food market (remember those big, influential food companies that are losing money) than any real health risk. If we want to keep the raw movement going, we need to be raw food advocates. We need to educate our friends, our vets, and our customers about the real risks – or lack thereof. Our mantra should be logic and education, logic and education. Armed with those tools, we can protect our pets, and protect ourselves.
It’s up to you.
Armed with the facts, are you still scared of the coming raw pet food recalls?
If every person who might be scared into moving away from a raw diet because of a recall (you read it all the time on the forums: “They had a recall five years ago and I will never use any company that has had a recall”) do you think the facts might persuade them? Then make sure as many people as possible KNOW the facts. We can protect our pets and our favorite companies from government overreaching through sheer force of knowledge.
As for me? I’m kind of craving some cookie dough right about now…