Quick: Where do you store your pet's food? Is it sitting in an open bag on the floor, perhaps? We pet people spend a lot of time, energy, and money selecting and buying our furry friends' food, but where and how to store it becomes an afterthought.
To find out the best possible way to keep food fresh and your pets safe I talked with Dr. Jerry Klein, an emergency and critical care veterinarian in Chicago and chief veterinary officer for the American Kennel Club. Here's what he had to say.
Storing Dry Pet Food
The most important rules of dry food is get it off the floor and seal it. Bags left on the floor and unsealed are not only tempting to vermin (eww) but also to your pet, particularly dogs. "As an emergency vet for more than 30 years we've seen many cases where dogs get into an open bag of food and get bloat," Dr. Klein says. That's scary stuff involving too much gas in the tummy, which enlarges the stomach and makes it hard for the dog to breathe. So seal the bag, pick it up off the floor, and, better still, place it inside another container.
Why not just pour it out into another container altogether? Well, you can, the vet says, but it turns out the lining of those bags may be designed to retain important fat content as well as flavor. Plastic containers may even change the flavor for Fido or Fluffy's kibble, although, to be honest, he says, that's how he stores his dogs' food. A stainless steel container, on the other hand, would retain nutrients without altering flavor. (I use vintage glass apothecary jars to store the kibble that supplements my dogs' homemade diet, and that storage method got the OK from the vet.)
Good Containers for Dry Pet Food
Lastly, keep the food in a temperature-controlled environment, says Dr. Klein, and check the use-by date found on the bag, usually located near the SKU code. When in doubt? It's best to toss it. Better safe than sorry.
Storing Canned Pet Food
Like dry food, canned pet food comes with a use-by date, so always check that, Dr. Klein says. Once you've opened it, store it in the fridge for no more than five to seven days, and be sure it's sealed with a plastic lid – or the old plastic-wrap-plus-rubber-band trick.
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Let's say you've served it and your pup or kitty is being picky. Dispose of it after four hours at room temp and wash the bowl.
Storing Raw Pet Food
If you've joined the raw food movement, you're going to treat your pet's stuff just like human food, Dr. Klein says. Note: The practice of feeding your pet raw food is controversial with passionate advocates for it and others who hotly dispute it. Dr. Klein doesn't say "yay or nay," adding that we're talking about a lot of pathogenic bacteria, like salmonella, listeria, and E. coli.
The concern for many vets, it seems, is more related to the health of the person handling the raw meats and their family, particularly if there are children or immuno-compromised members of the family.
So to be safe, store all raw meats in secure packaging in the fridge or freezer. If you refrigerate the food, it has to be consistently below 40°F, Dr. Klein says. Should there be a power outage or issue that disrupts refrigeration, discard the meat — even if it smells and looks OK, you can't go by that, he says. If you're buying the raw products sold in the freezer section of pet food stores, you still want to follow the same good practices for handling raw meat. Wash your hands and any tools or surfaces that come into contact with the meat.
Storing Homemade Pet Food
Homemade food also gets the same treatment as people food — after all, that's what it is. Store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three to five days. Dr. Klein adds that if you're going the "people food" route, be sure to discuss it with your own vet.