How Often Should You Wash Pet Food Bowls?

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Dog food bowl
Anastasiya Tsiasemnikava /

Most dog owners are making a mistake that can put the health of both themselves and their pets at risk.

Such owners are unaware of guidelines established by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for safe pet food and dish handling, according to a study published in the open-access journal PLoS One.

Failing to follow such instructions can put dogs and people at risk of bacterial illness due to contaminated food. The risk is highest among those with compromised immune systems.

Dr. Emily Luisana of North Carolina State University, a veterinarian, and her colleagues surveyed more than 400 dog owners and found that less than 5% were aware of the FDA guidelines.

Many of the surveyed owners engaged in poor practices when handling dog food. For example, just one-third washed their hands after touching their dog’s food, while only two-thirds prepare their dog’s food on a different surface than the one they use for human food.

According to the study authors:

“The majority of respondents reported storing their pet food against FDA and most manufacturers’ recommendations, which may have implications as far as increased risk of microbial contamination, nutritional degradation and palatability.”

While the FDA recommends storing food in its original container, 65% of respondents say they remove dry food from the manufacturer’s bag for storage.

As part of the study, researchers tested the food dishes of 68 dogs for bacterial contamination. They then divided the owners into three groups and gave them different instructions on how to use the FDA guidelines.

A week later, a test revealed that contamination levels had dropped significantly for those who implemented the FDA’s pet food handling or human food handling protocols compared with owners who had not been given food handling instructions to follow.

The FDA’s food handling guidelines also state:

  • “Wash pet food bowls and scooping utensils with soap and hot water after each use.
  • Do not use your pet’s food bowl as a scooping utensil. Use a clean scoop, spoon, or cup instead. Use the scooping utensil only for scooping pet food.
  • Throw out old or spoiled pet food in a safe way, for example, by placing it in a securely tied plastic bag in a covered trash can.”

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