A Safe Approach to Raw Foods

Manufacturers continue to work hard at mitigating the risks associated with raw diets while retailers educate consumers about safe-handling practices.


It happens.

Sometimes random testing will reveal the presence of a not-so-friendly bacteria or contaminant in a lot of pet food, triggering a recall—and it can happen in any pet food segment. However, the most vulnerable sector of the market these days seems to be raw diets. Given the very nature of these products and the potential risks, it is no surprise that safety is among consumers’ top concerns when it comes to feeding their pets raw.

Still, food safety concerns need not be deal-breaking deterrents for shoppers, as manufacturers continue to work harder at mitigating the risks and retailers get wise about educating consumers about safe-handling practices.

Matt Koss, founder and president of Primal Pet Foods, a manufacturer of raw dog and cat food, says while the raw food segment still only accounts for a small percentage of the overall pet food category, it is the fastest growing pet food segment. “Consumers are seeking out higher-quality, more species-specific product, which raw and freeze-dried foods fall under,” he says. “We are seeing new consumer growth, not just same-consumer growth.”

Still, the frozen raw food market has its challenges. Apprehensive pet owners who are concerned about bacteria and harmful contaminants associated with raw meats may bypass retailers’ freezers altogether, choosing to go with more conventional feeding options.

“In terms of food safety, there are still consumers who are on the fence,” Koss says.

However, Primal and other manufacturers are doing their best to ensure their products are safe. According to Koss, for example, Primal has a multi-layered system of checks and balances, including third-party testing, to ensure that its products are safe—from the sourcing of its human-grade ingredients to the operating procedures and sanitation practices in its manufacturing plants.

“We’ve delivered results year in and year out, and our food safety record stands for itself,” Koss says. “We’ve had one recall in 2011 with no sick animals on a very small batch of food.”

Of course, much can go wrong with a raw food product between the plant and its final destination in a pet’s bowl. “The distribution chain is where it can go sideways,” he says, adding that distributors must be diligent about the delivery of frozen product.

It then becomes the retailer’s responsibility to scrutinize shipments as they come in to make sure the product is intact and has been kept at the proper temperature.

“The recommendation is to check the product when it comes to the store, and that doesn’t just mean checking the temperature,” Koss says. “Make sure the product is solid, make sure that it is not frozen together in a solid clump, indicating temperature abuse somewhere along the way in the distribution process. Once those points are cleared, get it into your freezer ASAP.”

That is exactly what happens at All Pet Considered, according to store manager Alison Schwartz. “As soon as we receive raw product, it goes into the freezer,” Schwartz says, adding that the store currently boasts three glass-front double freezers and one glass-front single freezer on the floor, plus additional freezer storage in the back. “Because of our overstock and increased sales in the raw department, we have just purchased another double-door freezer for overstock in the back room. It’s right at the receiving dock so we can move product directly from the truck into the freezer.”

Beyond ensuring that the frozen product stays at the right temperature at all times, All Pets Considered also enacts safety protocols such as regularly inspecting expiration dates on packaging and rotating product. However, the store’s responsibility as far as food safety is concerned does not end with its efforts in-store. Schwartz says staff also strive to educate consumers about the safe handling of raw product at home. For example, customers are encouraged to buy a separate sponge wash the bowls they use to feed their pets raw foods, since one of the few but most significant dangers that raw-feeding pet owners should be concerned about is cross-contaminating human foods or kitchen surfaces with raw pet food.

All Pets Considered also sends consumers home with the message that while, from a human perspective, the prospect of eating raw meat sounds downright dangerous, when it comes to feeding dogs, raw is often the healthiest way to go.

“We educate our customers and talk about the importance of raw feeding and the difference it makes in the health of a dog,” Schwartz says. “And when people talk to us about bacteria, we discuss the make-up of a dog versus a human, how dogs are prepared to handle and battle bacteria differently than humans, and the importance of recognizing the difference between what’s good for a dog versus a human.”


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