Dry pet food linked to human salmonella outbreak

Dozens of toddlers got sick from salmonella infections after food was prepared in the same area as dry dog and cat food, health officials say.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in this week's issue of the journal Pediatrics that an outbreak of salmonella in 79 people between January 2006 and Octuber 2008 was caused by contaminated dry pet food. The infections struck 32 children age 2 or younger and are the first known human salmonella cases linked to dry dog and cat food.

The infections occurred in 21 states. More than 23,000 tons of pet food were recalled, affecting 105 brands, and a manufacturing plant in western Pennsylvania was shut in 2008.

Salmonella is a bacterium that causes fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. The bacteria are spread through contact with animal feces or consumption of food contaminated with feces. Most people recover from salmonella infection without treatment, says the CDC, but the illness can be fatal to the very young and very old.

Scientists traced the uncommon salmonella strain, called salmonella schwarzengrund, to bagged dry dog food. Many of the infections occurred in homes where pets were fed in the kitchen, which is why scientists are recommending that children younger than 5 not be allowed to touch or eat pet food or pet treats and be kept away from pet feeding areas.

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