ABSTRACT

Pet food has been identified as a source of pathogenic bacteria, including Salmonella and Escherichia coli. A recent outbreak linked to Salmonella-contaminated pet treats infected >150 people in the United States. The mechanism by which contaminated pet food leads to human illness has not been explicated, and pet owners' food safety knowledge and their pet food handling practices have not been reported. This study was conducted to evaluate pet owners' food safety knowledge and pet food handling practices through an online consumer survey. The survey consisted of 62 questions and assessed (i) owners' food safety knowledge and pet food handling practices; (ii) owners' interaction with pets; and (iii) owners' risk perception related to their own health, their children's health, and their pets' health. The survey was pilot tested among 59 pet owners before distribution to a national consumer panel managed by Qualtrics XM (Provo, UT). All participants (n = 1,040) were dog and/or cat owners in the United States. Almost all pet owners (93%) interacted with their pets, and most cuddled, allowed their pets to lick them, and slept with their pets. Less than one-third of pet owners washed their hands with soap after interacting with their pets. Over half (58%) of the owners reported washing their hands after feeding their pets. Most pet owners fed their pets dry pet food and dry pet treats. Some fed their pets raw meat or raw animal product diets because they believed these diets to be beneficial to the pet's overall health. Many owners (78%) were unaware of pet food recalls or outbreaks associated with foodborne pathogens. Less than 25% considered dry pet foods and treats as a potential source of foodborne pathogens. Pet owners were more concerned when seeing news about pets becoming ill from pet food and less concerned when seeing news about people becoming ill from pet food. The findings of this study indicated the need for consumer education about handling pet food. These results can help researchers develop more accurate risk assessment models and consumer education messages related to pet food handling.

HIGHLIGHTS
  • Most surveyed pet owners were unaware of pet food recalls or outbreaks due to pathogens.

  • Pet owners may lack knowledge of safe pet food handling practices.

  • Most pet owners perceived raw meat and animal parts to pose a microbial risk.

  • Owners were more concerned about pets than people becoming ill from pet food.

  • Many pet owners got pet food safety information from television and social media.

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