The CDC Weighs in on Raw Food - Should You Believe Them?

raw pet food

Story at-a-glance

  • Joining the ranks of organizations fear-mongering about raw pet food is the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
  • Despite clear and abundant evidence that contamination issues with processed (dry and canned) pet food are the real problem, the CDC has produced an infographic warning against the “dangers” of raw diets
  • Through mid-June, out of 50 pet food and treat recalls, only two have involved raw diets; there are also zero known reports of raw pet food causing illness in either a pet or a human
  • Warnings about salmonella contamination from raw pet food are wildly overblown and fly in the face of the facts
  • Despite the inherent risks associated with handling any raw meat, pet parents have been safely and successfully feeding raw diets to their dogs and cats for decades

By Dr. Becker

Here's a headline I recently ran across in a pet food industry journal:

"CDC weighs in on raw pet food, safety. A recently released infographic particularly highlights raw pet food safety considerations."1

Hoping for the best (that the CDC has had a revelation about biologically appropriate food for pets), but expecting the worst, I kept reading. The author of the article sets the stage for his argument by describing the CDC as the "pre-eminent public health organization in the world." Therefore, "… when CDC offers advice to the public regarding the safety of pet foods, it shouldn't be dismissed."

Translation: You rebellious raw feeders out there continue to ignore all the other illogical arguments against feeding raw diets to your pets, but now the CDC is repeating those illogical arguments, so listen up! The author then proceeds to try to help the CDC make the standard case against raw pet food, and references a colorful infographic that states in big letters:

"Raw pet food can make pets and people sick. CDC does not recommend feeding raw diets to pets. Germs like Salmonella and Listeria bacteria have been found in raw pet foods, even packaged ones sold in stores. These germs can make your pets sick. Your family also can get sick by handling the raw food or by taking care of your pet."2

Below this is a single sentence about processed pet food: "Dry and canned pet food also can be contaminated with germs."

Dry and Canned Account for the Overwhelming Majority of Pet Food Recalls

Whenever I run across dire warnings about raw pet diets, I like to have a look at a recent list of pet food recalls to see how many dry and canned foods and treats have been yanked from store shelves versus raw diets.

As I look at the running list compiled by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), from January 1 through June 23, 2017, I can see that around 65 to 70 pet food products were recalled (including about 15 bird and rabbit products). Out of those, it appears just two recalls were for raw cat and dog food.3

If I remove the 15 bird/rabbit foods and use a conservative total dog/cat foods recalled number of 50, the two raw products account for 4 percent of recalls through June. The other 96 percent were processed pet food. In previous similar comparisons, I've received similar results.

Yet the CDC, a number of other esteemed organizations both governmental and non-governmental, the majority of veterinarians and the processed pet food industry continue to try to convince dog and cat parents that raw diets are somehow much more dangerous than the processed stuff.

Big Pet Food Defends Big Government

Interestingly, further along in his article the author gets downright defensive on behalf of the CDC. He says:

"Personally, I viewed the CDC materials as sound and sober guidance from an agency highly respected for its expertise in the field of disease prevention. As interpreted by others on the internet, though, CDC is just another one of the government agencies that literally 'hates' raw pet foods.

Apparently, it is in collusion with FDA, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), state departments of agriculture and others intent on wiping out that facet of the pet food industry. In other words, CDC is either ignorant or corrupt, but regardless, it is not looking out for the best interests of consumers or their pets."4

I don't know that people working for the CDC, or the FDA, or AAFCO "hate" raw pet food. I DO know that for reasons only they can explain and so far haven't, they seem very invested in issuing ongoing warnings about the so-called dangers of raw pet food, despite ample evidence that raw diet recalls represent a laughably small percentage of total pet food recalls, year after year.

Salmonella Fear-Mongering

Thanks to the constant hectoring about the dangers of salmonella in raw pet food (when in fact, the problem is much more prevalent in processed pet food), unfortunately, many pet parents remain concerned about feeding raw foods specifically because raw meat can contain salmonella bacteria.

The fact is that salmonella can be found in up to 36 percent of all healthy dogs and 18 percent of healthy cats regardless of the food they consume. Many pets harbor these bacteria as a part of their normal gastrointestinal (GI) flora and naturally shed salmonella organisms in feces and saliva regardless of what food they eat.

All non-typhoid salmonella species are ubiquitously present in the environment and reside in the GI tracts of many animals, including pets. The majority of human salmonellosis cases are acquired through ingestion or handling of contaminated dry pet foods and treats — not raw meat. To my knowledge, there's no known incidence of humans being infected with salmonella by raw-fed cats and dogs. Here's what you need to know about salmonella:

Dry food and raw food can certainly harbor salmonella, so awareness is important.

Regardless of what food you feed your pet, animals can naturally harbor salmonella that can be a risk to humans, especially if you or a member of your family is immunocompromised.

The raw meat used in many commercially available raw food diets is human-grade, USDA-inspected and no different from the steak and chicken purchased for human consumption from a grocery store. It should be handled with the same safety precautions you use when you prepare, say, burgers for your family.

It's all the same meat. Your kitchen counters, bowls, cutting surfaces and utensils should be disinfected whether the raw meat is intended for your pet or human family members.

The FDA's Safe Handling Tips for Pet Foods and Treats recommends washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap right after handling dry pet foods and treats. They also suggest you wash your hands before preparing human food and before eating.

They recommend infants stay away from pet food areas and pet feeding stations, and that kids not be allowed to touch or eat pet food. They also recommend washing pet bowls after feeding and sanitizing eating surfaces regularly.

Long story short, follow the same safe handling precautions regardless of what you feed your pet. Additionally, responsible raw food companies perform due diligence to control potential pathogenic bacteria in a variety of non-toxic ways, including using phage technology, fermentation and lot testing to insure each batch of product is safe for consumption (something not a single dry food company can say).

The Anti-Raw Movement: Misinformed or Deliberately Deceitful?

Like other oversight organizations that have taken a very public stand against raw pet food diets, it would appear the CDC is also uninformed about or simply ignoring the types of raw diets currently on the market. There's a whole class of raw foods available that are sterile at the time of purchase.

Just as much of the human meat supply has been treated with a sterilization technique called high-pressure pasteurization (HPP), many raw commercially available pet foods have also opted for this sterilization technique to reduce potential pathogens. I don't believe healthy humans or pets should consume sterile food for a lifetime, but the fact that many commercial raw diets are STERILE appears to have been completely overlooked by the anti-raw movement.

As for "non-sterile" raw diets, most adults understand that handling raw meat carries the potential for contact with pathogens, which is why appropriate sanitary measures are important whether you're handling your pet's raw food or your own.

Despite the inherent risks associated with handling raw meat, pet parents have been feeding raw diets to their dogs and cats for decades, yet to date, not one documented case of raw pet food causing illness in humans has been reported. If you're already successfully feeding your pet a raw diet, I hope you'll disregard the CDC's misguided warning and continue to offer your dog or cat real, fresh, living foods.

If you're interested in feeding raw or learning more about it, there are many informative videos and articles here at Healthy Pets. A good place to start is my three-part video series on raw diets for pets:



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