MiceDirect, a company that sells frozen mice, rats and chicks as reptile feed, has issued a recall because of Salmonella contamination of their product. Contaminated critters have been sold across the US (except Hawaii) through mail order and pet stores, and recalled product codes can be found in the FDA recall notice. Contamination isn't a big deal for the reptiles, since carriage rates for Salmonella are already high and they are usually healthy carriers. The concern is for people who handle the frozen rodents/chicks (or who can be exposed indirectly from contaminated surfaces in the home). There have been previous outbreaks of human Salmonella infections associated with contaminated frozen rodents.
Unlike many other recalls where the product is recalled because of contamination but without evidence of human illness, human illnesses suspected to be linked to contaminated reptile food have been identified in 17 states. In reality, reported cases may be the tip of the iceberg, and I suspect that if cases in 17 states are confirmed, there will be (or may already be) many more. Other details regarding these cases and the recall, such as the strain of Salmonella involved, haven't been released.
In response to this problem, the FDA report and the company website indicate that products from MiceDirect will be irradiated. It's not clear if this will be a standard protocol from now on, or whether it's a short-term response to the contamination problem. Considering the repeated outbreaks associated with frozen reptile food, irradiation sounds like a good standard practice. Perhaps the best way to help make (or keep) it a standard practice industry-wide is for consumers to vote with their wallets: ask for irradiated or otherwise treated (e.g. high pressure pasteurization (although I'm not sure what that would do to a mouse)) feeds to reduce the risks of contamination.
Because of recurrent problems with contaminated frozen reptile feed, if people are not buying products that are treated to eliminate contamination, they should assume that all such feed is contaminated and handle it accordingly. That means using basic practices such as:
- keeping frozen reptile feed away from human food
- if defrosting it in the refrigerator, keep the reptile feed in a sealed container that is not used for human food and that is disinfected afterward
- washing hands after handling the feed
- disinfecting any potentially contaminated surfaces that come in contact with the feed
- discarding uneaten food promptly, since Salmonella can multiply as uneaten food sits in the open, especially in a nice, warm reptile terrarium
A link to more information about MiceDirect is available through a post on Barfblog.