Does Raw Food Spread Superbugs?
Updated: Jul 16, 2021
Every now and then news articles pop up warning about the dangers of feeding raw food or fresh food diets. In the latest article, it warns of dog food across Europe containing antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Sounds scary right? Yes, but it’s not the entire picture and for the reason you might not think …
A Society of Over-Sterilization and Antibiotic Use
For many years “bacteria'' was synonymous with “disease” and we tried to kill the bacteria with sanitizers and pumped our animals full of antibiotics. However, these same measures also kill the good bacteria that are so critical to our health. The result? We have bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and a generation of pets and people with unhealthy and unbalanced microbiomes because we have disrupted the balance with antibiotics, chemicals, processed foods, etc.
Bacteria Living In Balance
Enterococci is a family of bacteria that naturally live harmlessly in the guts of humans and animals while playing an important role in digestion, etc. A healthy digestive tract will contain a wide variety of bacteria families that live in balance and make up our internal ecosystem (our microbiome) – and the good bacteria keep the bad ones in check. The Enterococci bacteria family is known to be resistant to antibiotics. The reality is, too many vets and doctors overprescribe antibiotics resulting in a worldwide problem with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The bacteria is everywhere (did I mention its inside us and our pets) so the fact that it’s found in pet food is not news.
Enterococci is opportunistic, in the sense that if the immune system is weakened by other stress factors, it could flare up and cause an infection. We do not test for Enterococci because it is so commonly found in animals and people, and some strains are even used as probiotics. Enterococcus faecium used as a probiotic in some pet supplements
Funded Scare Tactics
It’s disappointing to see articles like these being used as a scare tactic to discourage pet parents from feeding fresh, less processed and healthier foods to their pets, and then completely ignoring the elephant in the room. The fact is, the bacteria in these commercial raw diets doesn't come from the raw food manufacturers. Infact, nearly ALL commercial raw products today use human grade ingredients. Meaning they come from the same sources that go to the grocery stores for [our] human consumption.
Grocery Store Meat Still Contains The Same Bacteria
The problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria found in meat is not a unique problem to pet food. What this is really saying is that the meat you buy from the grocery store is also a source of the same bacteria because much of the factory-farmed meat in our food system is contaminated with antibiotic resistant bacteria (including bacterial that is truly pathogenic) Supermarket Meat Still Superbugged, Federal Data Show. Instead of making this about raw pet food, let’s focus on improving the balance and health of our food system!
To me, “warning” people about raw pet food in this way is analogous to talking about increases in wildfires and warning people about the risk of campfires, but ignoring that these conditions are a result of a bigger systemic problem - climate change.
The Need For A Better Food System
Yes, it is important to educate people about basic food safety practices – for ALL foods they handle (dog, cat, human etc.) for all members of their family.
But the other important lesson we keep missing is to bring the system back into balance. We need to be eating and feeding our pets more fresh foods, more fermented foods, more probiotics, more variety so we can get back to a healthy balanced microbiome, which is the foundation of health.
So What Can You Do To Ensure Food Safety?
Handle Food Safely
Make sure you handle all raw products from grocery stores (meats and vegetables) with care
Wash vegetables thoroughly, wash your hands and surfaces after handling raw meat
Buy your raw food from suppliers with verified food safety programs that manage the risk of bacteria
For us, we manage our risk with our HACCP program (including regular testing, etc.) Learn more about our HACCP Food Safety Program
Organic & Non-Medicated Meats & Vegetables
Ethically raised meat typically has a much lower amount of these superbugs so if you can eat organic and ethical meats, that definitely helps to reduce the risk. We test all our batches and many raw materials, especially poultry and beef and find the amount of pathogenic bacteria is very low both because ethically raised animals are more balanced and because the suppliers have good safety protocols
The Importance of Gut Health
Having an abundance of gut bacteria helps the body have better immunity towards pathogenic and foreign bacteria.
Strong immunity towards harmful bacteria
Supports digestive system
Less prone to allergies
Aids whole body health
Learn More about Gut Health in our 4 part series
Other Instances Media Influence & Misconceptions
"People Warned Against Dangers of Green Vegetables!"
That's the equivalent message of the latest sequence of CTV articles about raw food (1). If you ever saw a headline like that, you would probably do a double take.
We all know vegetables are healthy. Doctors, volumes of research, and good old common sense have confirmed this. However, fresh food does carry certain food safety risks, including contamination with dangerous bacteria. (The recent romaine lettuce contamination with E. coli in Arizona is a perfect example.) Despite those risks, we as humans are encouraged to make vegetables a staple part of our diet because the benefits of these unprocessed, whole foods far outweigh the risks. So why does this notion not reflect in pet food?
The pet food industry is the only industry where food safety is used as a scare tactic. Pet parents are bullied into feeding highly over-processed nutrient less food because real food (raw) has “bacteria.”
Even worse, it’s also the only industry where trained health professionals recommend processed food as a healthier option than fresh, unprocessed food. Imagine your medical doctor telling you to eat cereal, processed cheese or microwave dinners, rather than a diet consisting of a variety of fresh vegetables, meats, fruits, and some grains. Think about that for a moment. Does that seem reasonable? This kind of ridiculous thinking is a present-day reality in the pet food industry.
The recent piece from CTV even goes as far as to say: “Avoid kisses from your pooch, as this transmits a lot of bacteria.”
(1) WOW! I guess I shouldn’t kiss my kids after having a salad either!
Dogs have bacteria in their mouths, no matter what they eat. For crying out loud, they eat poop and lick their private parts, yet, we don’t see emergency rooms full of sick kids and adults from being licked by their family pet!
I am suspended somewhere between disbelief and outrage when I see reputable news agencies publish this kind of misleading and fear-based nonsense. This thinking goes contrary to any standard risk management strategies or health strategies that we use for our own well-being. It feels like pets are getting the “raw” end of the deal!