The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has recalled some lots of raw pet food from Woody’s Pet Food Deli, after linking them to a human infection. The link isn’t definite, but was obviously enough to prompt a recall.

The situation involves a person who developed salmonellosis and, as is typical, an investigation of possible sources ensued. Salmonella Reading was isolated from the person. This strain has been previously found in raw turkey-based pet food, and the affected person had handled just such a product that was fed to the patient’s dog. A fecal sample from the dog was tested and Salmonella was isolated. It wasn’t Salmonella Reading, but isolation of Salmonella from the dog was enough to cause concern, particularly given the previous linkage of this Salmonella strain to raw pet food-associated infections. If no other potential sources were identified, it’s reasonable to assume the pet food was the source.

The source of the Salmonella found in the dog was likely also the food, since Salmonella shedding by dogs is rare. Samples of raw food from the manufacturer were tested and Salmonella (not S. Reading) was isolated, which prompted the recall. An issue that comes up in investigation of raw pet food-associated outbreaks is the small production batches and the variability of contamination. By the time someone gets exposed to Salmonella from pet food, gets sick, goes to the doctor, gets tested, the result is reported and public health investigates, the batch of product that was originally fed to the dog is typically long gone. So, other batches have to be tested and even if the food was the source, subsequent batches may not be contaminated or, as is the suspicion here, might be contaminated with different Salmonella.

Finding Salmonella in raw meat is expected, and human (and animal) illnesses occur sporadically. They’re underreported and we don’t really understand the full scope of the problem. However, these infection are preventable.

I’m long past the stage where I think I can convince people not to feed raw diets to their pets. That’s a personal decision, and while I think it creates unnecessary risk and hassles, it’s going to be done by some. However, there are some households where raw diets should NOT be fed. These include households where high risk people or animals are present, i.e. individuals who are more likely to get sick and/or more likely to develop serious illness. Households with young kids, elderly individuals, immunocompromised individuals or pregnant women are high risk. The same applies to animals, so households with old, very young, immunocompromised or pregnant dogs/cats should avoid raw feeding too. I’m also wary of it in growing animals, since there are lots of cases of nutritional deficiencies when the diet being fed isn’t properly balanced for such an animal (which is tricky to do).

For people who choose to feed a raw diet, the key is using some simple precautions to reduce (though they will not eliminate) the risk. We have a fact sheet outlining these practices on the Worms & Germs Resources – Pets page.