Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Keep it in the Bag


 I am not a big proponent of dry food to begin with (the more I learn, the less I like it), but some of the ways in which I see people storing dry pet foods are less than ideal. I suppose a lot of people haven't even really given it much thought. I didn't think much about it either in the beginning, but how you store your pet's dry food is important.

Our pets don't get to choose what they get to eat. Their only choice is what we give them.  It's up to us to learn not only what they like but also what's appropriate and healthy for them. They have to rely on us to figure that out. Each pet is unique and has it's own preferences, just like people. They like a variety, just like we do. It's not natural for them to eat the same thing every meal, day after day, for years on end, any more than it is for us. It's not natural for carnivores to eat highly processed dry kibble.

Just like whatever we put into our body has an effect on us, the same goes with our animal friends. Though unlike us, typically pets eat the same food every meal, day after day, month after month, year after year and so for this reason, the effects of the ingredients (or lack of) in the food (and the water) they consume really have a big impact on their health and well being and can mean the difference between just surviving (or worse) or thriving. Are your pets consuming healthy ingredients or ingredients known to be unhealthy or even detrimental to their health? 

With all that being said, dry pet foods (which, by the way, are technically considered feed not food) are highly processed. Because they are highly processed and use preservatives, they are packaged and stored in bags that are intended to keep them as fresh as possible until the expiration date or shelf life, which can be between one and three years.

Also, some of the dietary fats that pets require are very sensitive to air, heat and time. As soon as a bag of kibble is opened, those fats begin to go rancid. Pouring the kibble from the bag to a container, or into a bowl accelerates the process as the kibble is exposed to more air each time and sits there waiting to be eaten.

Another thing is that in the final step of the kibble production process, palatability enhancers are sprayed on the food (because few animals would eat it otherwise), which consist of metal oxides and sulfates that promote the oxidation of fats.

 Most bags of dry food have a plastic liner on the inside for this reason. Some of the better quality foods are lined with foil inside. The packaging is protecting the food from air (oxygen), heat and moisture. No matter what type of preservative is used in your pet's food, it can quickly turn rancid if exposed to air and hot temperatures. You are supposed to store pet food in a cool (under 80 degrees), dry place, which (especially here in the South) does not mean the garage.

I realize that sometimes there is the issue of bugs getting into the food and that's why people began putting the food in other containers to store it. However, you can store the food still in the bag, in a container to keep the bugs out. It will stay fresher this way. I used to pour out the dry foods into plastic containers too, until I learned more about pet foods and plastics. 

I have seen dry pet food stored in all kinds of containers. The most popular is plastic of course. What most people don't think about is whether or not the plastic is food grade plastic. Our food items, along with pet foods are stored in food grade plastics. Some (if not all) plastics can leach toxic chemicals into the contents of the container. Some plastics can actually absorb much of the vitamin C out of the food; it leaches out and gets sucked into the plastic material. This effects shelf life as it causes the fat to oxidize and accelerates spoilage. Most people don't realize this. Another reason to leave it in the bag.

 I've seen pet food poured out of the bag into plastic containers for storage that are not even made to store food items (like trash cans or storage containers that are not air tight). How long do you think that food stays fresh considering all the things I just mentioned?

Not only that, but Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical that can be found in many plastic containers, including food-grade plastics. BPA has been shown in several medical studies to be harmful and may even cause cancer. BPA has been linked to thyroid and neurological problems. If you are going to pour the dry food into a plastic container, make sure the plastic is BPA free.

 If you keep your pet food in a food-grade, BPA free plastic container, be sure to wash it out and dry it thoroughly before putting new food in. If you dump new, fresh food on top of remnants of old, rancid food, those remnants of oxidizing old food can spread the oxidation to the new food. 

I've seen metal garbage cans (kept in the garage) or other metal cans used for storing pet foods. I've seen not only foods kept in containers that are kept in the garage but in the freezer as well. Freezing it isn't going to keep it fresher -- keeping it in the closed bag will. Dogs and cats do not like frozen food (unless it's a frozen yogurt-type treat). Eating frozen foods is not natural for them. They prefer foods at room temperature (or live temperature for live food!). Ask yourself this: If you were to pour a box of your favorite cereal in the container you store your pet food in, how long would your cereal stay fresh? 

Even if they are food grade plastic containers which are BPA free and made for storing food, there are two important reasons why keeping it in the bag is a good idea. One is that the bags, which were made specifically to keep that food fresh, would likely keep the food fresh longer than it would after being poured into another container (letting air in), which is likely to allow for more space (air) as the food level gets lower. (A bag you can roll down to keep the air out.) The other (very important) reason to keep it in the bag is in case of a recall of the food. If your pet ever gets sick and you suspect the food (or treats), you will need the product information code and expiration date on the package.

That may bring to mind the big pet food recall in 2007, but you know about that one because it was huge and effected so many pets and got lots of coverage in the news. What you may not realize is there are pet food recalls all the time. (I post them on our FaceBook page.) Long before 2007 and frequently since. If there is a recall on the food you buy, you want to have the information on the bag available because the manufacturer always lists the lot numbers of the food in addition to the brands or types that are affected. I had a client who's cat suffered sudden renal failure due to some of the recalled food in 2007 and having that product information helped in her claim for financial reimbursement from the food manufacturer for the veterinarian bills. Happily, her cat did survive and went on to live a normal life after many months of treatment. 

We need to be conscious of not only how we store our pet's food but also about handling it. People have gotten salmonella from handling bad pet food. Never let children handle it or put it in their mouths. Always wash your hands after handling pet foods and treats.

Do you buy too much food at a time? For example, do you buy the largest bag of pet food for a single pet so you get it cheaper and don't have to buy it as often? Just how long does it last? Does it last so long it's most likely stale or rancid once you get to the bottom of the bag? You might want to consider buying in smaller quantities so it's always as fresh as possible. If not, be sure to at least keep the bag closed and in an air tight container to keep it fresh longer. Once I gave my cat some high quality dry food that a client had given me after her cat passed away. Turned out the food in the bottom of the bag was rancid and made my cat very sick. (He was okay after being treated at the vet's.) So just be aware! Foods can make them sick and often do. Be more discerning of not only what you give your pets to eat but also how and where you store it.

If you ever notice the food looks or smells funny, don't feed it to them. If your pet refuses to eat something, don't make them. Remember that client who's cat suffered renal failure from the food? She told me that looking back, she specifically remembered that her cat smelled the food but did not want to eat it (which was unusual). She encouraged her to eat it and she did eat some of it. Of course my client felt bad afterwards for getting her to eat it when the cat could smell that there was something wrong with the food and knew not to eat it. But of course my client had no idea the food was contaminated until later. We forget sometimes to give more credit to the animals. They are in tune with what's good for them. Their sense of smell is much more powerful than ours. Their noses know!