As the Pennsylvania Department of Health investigates human cases of infection with an uncommon type of Salmonella, possibly connected to dry dog food, state Health Secretary Dr. Calvin B. Johnson today reminded consumers of steps they should take to prevent illness when handling pet food and pet treats.

Since January 2006, Pennsylvania has identified 21 individuals with illness caused by a specific strain of Salmonella serotype Schwarzengrund. Many of the illnesses linked to this strain involve infants and young children, who are especially vulnerable to Salmonella infections. Most of the cases have occurred in households with pets or where people are in close contact with pets, but there is no evidence that any human consumed pet food.

"While the department is working very closely with federal investigators to identify a specific cause and source for these illnesses, it is important that pet owners understand and follow steps to prevent Salmonella infection from occurring," Dr. Johnson said.

Consistent with recent guidance from the Food and Drug Administration, Johnson recommends these simple precautions when handling pet food:

Buying Tips

-- Purchase products (canned or bagged) with no visible signs of damage to the packaging, such as dents, tears, discolorations, etc.

Preparation Tips

-- Preferably, people should feed their pet in areas other than the kitchen.

-- Begin with clean hands. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with hot water and soap before and after handling pet food and treats.

-- Wash pet food bowls, dishes and scooping utensils with soap and hot water after each use. The bowl or utensils used for pet food should not be washed in the kitchen sink. In households where there is no alternative, the sink area should be adequately sanitized after these items have been cleaned and removed.

-- Do not use the pet's feeding bowl as a scooping utensil -- use a clean, dedicated scoop, spoon or cup instead.

-- Dispose of old or spoiled pet food products in a safe manner (example: in a securely tied plastic bag in a covered trash receptacle).

Storage Tips

-- Pet food should not be handled or stored in areas where food for humans is prepared. If this does happen, it increases the potential for cross-contamination from the pet food to foods being served to people.

-- Promptly refrigerate or discard unused, leftover wet pet food (cans, pouches, etc.). Refrigerating foods quickly prevents the growth of most harmful bacteria. Refrigerators should be set at 40 degrees F. The accuracy of the setting should be checked occasionally with a refrigerator thermometer.

-- Dry pet food and pet treats should be stored in a cool, dry place under 80 degrees F.

-- If possible, store dry pet food in its original bag inside a clean, dedicated plastic container with a lid, keeping the top of the bag folded closed.

-- Keep pets away from food storage and preparation areas.

-- Keep pets away from garbage and household trash.

Salmonellosis is a bacterial infection that affects the intestinal tract and sometimes can affect the bloodstream and other organs. It is one of the most common causes of gastroenteritis, which can include diarrhea and vomiting. Approximately 2,000 cases of Salmonella infection are reported each year in Pennsylvania.

Onset of illness usually occurs in 24 to 72 hours, and patients typically recover in five to seven days. Patients often do not require treatment unless they become severely dehydrated or the infection spreads from the intestines. Persons with severe diarrhea may require rehydration, often with intravenous fluids. Antibiotics are not usually necessary unless the infection spreads.

Pennsylvania Department of Health
http://www.health.state.pa.us