Pet Food and Microbiology

Why is it important to test Pet Food for microbiology?

In the past few years there have been multiple outbreaks related to pet food affecting the health of both pets and humans.  Most people associate Salmonella as a bacterium linked to food borne illness in people food, but in recent years there have been quite a few outbreaks of Salmonella in pet food that has also affected humans.  The most concerning aspect is that it primarily caused illness in small children.  It was not believed to be caused by the children eating the dog food, but having interactions with the dog.  After it was discovered that the outbreak was caused by tainted dog food, over 23,000 tons of pet food was recalled, and when the outbreak continued, the plant that produced the tainted dog food was closed down.  There was also a pet food recall based on an aflatoxin contamination.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) categorizes aflatoxin as a naturally occurring fungal toxin that contaminates maize and other types of crops during production, harvest storage or processing1.  The aflatoxin outbreak was linked to the death of over a hundred pets.  In the past year Kroger stores recalled a wide variety of pet foods due to a possible contamination caused by aflatoxin2.

However, it is more effective to test for indicator organisms rather than to test for pathogens such as Salmonella.  Indicator organisms are used to measure potential fecal contamination of environmental samples. The presence of coliform bacteria, such as E. coli, is a common indicator of fecal contamination. Indicator organisms are typically used to demonstrate the potential presence or absence of groups of pathogens. The use of indicators is attractive because it reduces the complexity and cost of analyzing

Indicator microbes are generally selected for the following reasons:

1) They are initially abundant in the matrix to be assayed.

2) A relatively rapid, accurate, and cost effective analytical method for enumerating the indicator exists or can be readily developed.

3) A reasonably strong correlation exists between the presence/absence of the indicator and a particular pathogen or group of pathogens. The strength of the correlation will determine the effectiveness and accuracy of the indicator as a measure of pathogen occurrence.

In pet food testing is conducted for Enterobacteriaceae or fecal coliform as indicator of fecal contamination and yeast and mold as indicators for general quality and aflaxoins.

What are the advantages of the BioLumix system?

Using the BioLumix system will allow the customers to test their products not only for Salmonella and yeast/molds, but also for indicator organisms such as coliforms, fecal coliforms, Enterobacteriaceae and more.  Indicator organisms can be used to pet food manufacturing to cleanliness and sanitary issues within the facility.  Also the presence of the organisms can affect appearance, taste and texture of the pet food.  The BioLumix system can save time when testing pet food products for Yeast and Mold, instead of taking five days using traditional plates, the BioLumix system will give the same results in under 48 hours.  This can help the manufacturers to avoid a potential aflatoxin contamination by knowing if their product contains any amount of mold.  Detecting fecal coliforms is even faster and saves even more money using the BioLumix system.  Instead of running an MPN assay which will require up to 5 days of testing as well as 9 tubes of LTB and up to 9 tubes of EC Media to wait for confirmation of a positive fecal coliform.  Finally, the last confirmation step is to streak the positive EC Media to L-EMB agar plates; the BioLumix system instead requires one test vial and 1ml of the sample in order to detect a level as low at <10 cfu/gram, and can give results in under 24 hours.  Similarly, the Enterobacteriaceae test in BioLumix requires one vial instead of multiple MPN tubes required by the European method.

BioLumix Pet Food Study

BioLumix recently conducted a study of different store bought pet foods, ranging from dry dog food samples to wet (oil based) samples.  All samples matched the results for Yeast/Mold, Enterobacteriaceae, Total Aerobic Count, E. coli and fecal coliforms when comparing between the BioLumix System and traditional plating methods.  Since there are no specifications by AAFO or FDA for indicator organisms in pet foods the levels tested for Enterobacteriaceae were based on European standards for pet food.   The products were processed and tested using FDA-BAM methods3.  Only one sample came up positive for fecal coliforms, results of the BioLumix vial matched the MPN results.  Two of the samples had counts >10 cfu/g for Enterobacteriaceae and were the only ones that were above the specification level of cfu’s of the manufacturer. 

The BioLumix system detects optical changes in the test vial, presenting results of the assays as soon as detections occur with no need for involvement of an operator or a microbiologist, providing significant savings on laboratory labor. Any out-of-spec samples are flagged in red, demanding attention. The greater the contamination level, the faster the result, ensuring a rapid warning of poor-quality raw materials, finished products or any equipment line issues.

The BioLumix System showed a high correlation between the instrument results and the BAM methodology.  It simplified the microbiological testing, offers a significant reduction in time to obtain results and reduces hands-on labor due to its automation and simplicity of use.  The time to results for bacteria was hours rather than days while yeast and mold required only 48 hours instead of 5 days. 

  1.  http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/hsb/aflatoxin/
  2. http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/kroger-recalls-pet-foods-due-to-possible-health-risk-112125284.html
  3. http://www.fda.gov/Food/ScienceResearch/LaboratoryMethods/BacteriologicalAnalyticalManualBAM/default.htm