The multi-state outbreak of salmonellosis linked to pig ear treats continues in the US. In the latest CDC report on the outbreak, 48 new infections have been added to the investigation since July 3, and 3 new Salmonella types are now involved (Salmonella Infantis, London and Newport). This brings them to a total of 93 cases of infection with the outbreak strains… or, I should say, reported infections. As always, reported cases are likely just the tip of the iceberg, since people who get sick have to go to a doctor, submit a fecal sample, Salmonella has be identified and it has to be linked to the outbreak. Most cases presumably are never diagnosed.

Of the 93 infections, 20 required hospitalization. Fortunately, no one has died.

Contact with pig ear treats has been implicated as the source. This isn’t surprising since they’ve been linked to outbreaks in the past. Pig ear treats are just dried pig ears. Pigs can shed Salmonella, leading to contamination of the treats. They can also be contaminated during handling, processing or later, such as through contamination of bulk bins in stores. The latter might be important in this situation, and there was a recall of bulk pig ear products because Salmonella contamination was identified.

Some key points for reducing the risk of Salmonella in people and pets from treats include:

  • Remember that raw animal-based products are prone to contamination with potentially harmful bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria.
  • Check to see if the treats have been processed in a way to kill bacteria, such as cooking. Dehydrating is not the same thing.
  • Avoid buying treats from bulk bins. All it takes is one contaminated treat (or hand) and many other treats can become contaminated.
  • Avoid feeding raw animal-based treats (such as pig ears) when you have a high-risk person in the household. This includes children less than 5 years of age, people over 65 years of age, pregnant women and individuals with compromised immune systems (e.g. due to illness or drug therapy).
  • Avoid feeding raw animal-based treats in households with pets that fit into high-risk groups as well. Also avoid them in dogs that are used for hospital visitation programs, where the dogs will be in contact with a lot of high-risk patients.
  • Wash your hands after handing any pet treat, especially those from raw animal products.