I got a question about an old post on this topic, so I decided to add a bit of information and re-post it. Not much has changed since it was written in 2018, apart from more reports of people and pets getting sick from raw pet food and raw treats.
We don’t have much pet food-specific research, but there’s little reason to believe there would be much difference between these types of diets when it comes to the microbes we’re concerned about. When I want to preserve bacteria, I freeze them or freeze-dry them – those are actually the preferred methods for long-term storage of bacteria. Freezing or freeze-drying is a pretty hospitable process and state for most bacteria. Some, such as Campylobacter, don’t tolerate freezing (or especially fresh-thaw cycles) as well as others, so freezing or freeze-drying might have some impact on those specific bugs. For the higher profile pathogens like Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria, it probably doesn’t have much of an effect. I can see there being some reduction in bacterial numbers but probably nothing substantial, and certainly not enough that I’d consider it when deciding whether it’s an appropriate diet for a particular pet and household.
The story is quite different for some parasites. Many parasites and parasite eggs don’t tolerate freezing – that’s why fish for sushi is typically frozen at some point before it is served. Some are hardier than others, though. Toxoplasma, a potentially important foodborne parasite, is susceptible to freezing, but only if the temperature is low enough and the time is long enough (e.g. -12C for 3 days will kill most Toxoplasma cysts. To put that into context, typical household freezers run around -20C).
So, the take home message is that for of the microbes that we’re worried about with raw meat, freezing or freeze-drying is NOT a food safety practice. It’s food preservation, not bacterial control.
Another point to add… advertizing around pet diets is variable and sometimes quite dodgy. I just checked two websites selling freeze-dried raw diet. One had good info. The other… well… not so much. Don’t let company advertizing be your infection control guidance.
More information on raw diets and toxoplamsosis are available on the Worms & Germs Resources – Pets page.