Pet food manufacturers have hit back at claims that feeding raw food poses a danger to both humans and animals, and reassured owners that it’s safe to use as long as sensible hygiene measures are taken.
According to a study published in Vet Record, high levels of potentially harmful bacteria have been found in raw food products.
Children, the elderly and those with poor immune systems are most at risk from exposure and could be susceptible to infection, the authors said.
But the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association has responded to the findings of the Vet Record study.
It stated: “The PFMA is aware of the recent paper published in Vet Record on a Swedish study that tested 60 products from various European countries for bacterial contamination, including a single UK manufacturer. As this has been covered in the national media, PFMA would like to provide some reassurance and guidance to owners who choose to feed a raw meat diet.
“While it carries no greater risk than handling fresh raw meat intended for humans, pet owners must be dedicated to good hygiene practices in the home and maintain high standards of hygiene to prevent contamination.
‘The researchers highlight the importance of careful storage, handling and good hygiene practices when feeding a raw meat diet. This is vital; the risk of food-borne illness must be a serious consideration for any person choosing to handle and feed any raw product in the home.
‘PFMA and its members take education seriously and we provide some guidance for owners on best practice hygiene, handling and storage of raw meat products. Indeed this is best practice for handling all pet food products.”
The PFMA provides guidance to pet owners in a factsheet available on it website at https://www.pfma.org.uk/raw-feeding-factsheet
The PFMA statement continued: “Whilst homemade diets provide more flexibility for pets with very specific nutritional needs, they are challenging and require significant research and expert guidance to undertake with any success.
“A fundamental concern, as with any homemade diet, is whether all the right nutrients are provided in the right proportions for healthy bodily function. An additional concern is ensuring ingredients from a safe and reliable source.
“PFMA’s advice to owners feeding a raw pet food is to use a registered raw food manufacturer who is professionally making raw pet food meals with appropriate microbiological controls. As with all commercially prepared pet foods, commercially prepared raw foods are subject to stringent legislation. “Commercial raw producers within PFMA membership will also manufacture their diets in line with best practice guidelines.”
The PFMA has within membership 11 commercial raw pet food companies with a dedicated sector group.
Last year PFMA launched the best practice guideline on the Manufacture of Raw Pet Food, which has been developed in conjunction with Defra, the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), Public Health England (PHE) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
The Swedish researchers examined samples from 60 packs of raw meat products in 2017, made by 10 manufacturers in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Germany and England.
All samples contained enterobacteriaceae species, which could pose a risk to health, and more than half (52%) had levels that exceeded the European Union maximum threshold.
Most of the species identified were not known to cause infection, apart from E coli, which was found in around a third of samples.
It is not clear if the E coli identified by the study could have caused illness.
Meanwhile, salmonella species were found in 7% of the samples.
The researchers warned the bacteria could transfer through contact between pet and owner, or easily spread onto surfaces and other food in kitchens.
"Dogs in families with infants, elderly people or immuno-compromised individuals should also not be fed raw meat-based diets, as these groups are more susceptible to infections,” warned the researchers.