FDA launches safety investigation of controversial raw foods for pets

In the wake of recalls of raw foods marketed to dog and cat owners, the FDA has started collecting samples of the products to test them for the pathogens Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli. The samples will be collected from retail stores and will include frozen, freeze-dried, and dehydrated raw foods marketed for pets, according to a notice issued by the agency.

The FDA is going after a fast-growing segment of the pet food market: sales of raw foods come in at about $115 million annually and are growing 17% a year, according to MarketResearch.com. But in its statement, the FDA cited several published reports of serious health concerns with the products. One study, for example, found Salmonella in 80% of raw chicken dog food products tested and in 30% of stool samples from dogs that ate the products. There have also been published reports of pets passing Salmonella on to their owners, who subsequently became ill, according to the FDA.

"Even if the pets do not appear to be sick after consuming raw pet foods containing pathogens such as Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes, they can become carriers of such pathogens and transfer the pathogens to the environment," the statement said.

There have also been some high-profile recalls of raw pet foods over the last year. Most recently, California-based OC Raw Dog pulled 2,055 pounds of its Turkey & Produce Raw Frozen Canine Formulation off the market because of possible Salmonella contamination.

The investigation is the latest in a string of actions taken by the FDA to protect pet owners. Last year, the agency sent warning letters to three companies selling unapproved antibiotic-based drugs meant to erase tear stains in dogs and cats. It has also been on the lookout for illegal "compounded" drugs being sold to treat everything from ulcers to cancer without FDA approval.

After collecting the raw food samples, the FDA will analyze any pathogens it finds to determine their serotype, or variation. The agency intends to complete the collection by the end of the summer. Meanwhile, it is reiterating advice it has offered to pet owners in the past: "FDA does not believe raw meat foods for animals are consistent with the goal of protecting the public from significant health risks," the agency says on its website.

- here's the FDA's notice