Raw versus cooked foods: What is HPP and why does it matter? (Part II)

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As I discussed in my previous blog post, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) have recently passed resolutions generally against feeding dogs and cats raw protein diets that have not first undergone a process to eliminate pathogens, such as cooking, pasteurization or irradiation.

Those who feed their pets a raw diet should consider the following:
1. These resolutions are just that and do not limit your right or choice to feed a raw diet.
2. The AVMA and AAHA are not against feeding all raw meat; they are just against feeding raw food that is contaminated with pathogens.

While the AVMA and AAHA refer to cooking, pasteurization or irradiation as acceptable means to eliminate harmful pathogens, these methods also could potentially affect the nutritional integrity of the protein. These organizations do not, however, discuss the pathogen-kill method I alluded to in the previous post, high-pressure processing (HPP).

Let’s take a closer look at HPP and how it compares to other pathogen elimination methods.

What is high-pressure processing (HPP)?

HPP uses intense pressure (58,000 to 87,000 pounds per square inch, or psi), rather than heat, to destroy pathogens such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria in raw meat. HPP also kills yeasts and molds.

Since HPP does not use heat, the nutritional integrity of the raw product remains intact, including its flavor, color and texture. Moreover, the finished product remains raw. HPP, therefore, creates what is truly a “pathogen-free” raw meat product.

HPP commercial raw diets versus non-HPP commercial raw

Raw diet manufacturers that do not use a pathogen kill-step such as HPP run a higher risk of releasing contaminated product into the marketplace. Therefore, if you are interested in minimizing the risk of pathogens, I suggest calling or emailing the company to find out if it incorporates HPP into its production process. Since these manufacturers also test and hold each batch of food prior to releasing it into the marketplace, you have the extra assurance that your pet’s raw diet is really free of harmful organisms.

According to the North American Raw Pet Food Association (NARPA), the manufacturers that utilize a pathogen kill-step such as HPP produce 75% of the commercial raw diets sold, so finding one that suits your needs and preferences should not be difficult.

HPP commercial raw diets versus home-prepared raw

As I mentioned in the previous post, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates meat processed for human consumption, whereas the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Veterinary Medicine regulates meat processed for the pet food industry. This is an important distinction, as the FDA and USDA maintain different tolerances for pathogens allowed in meat products.

Any food that is adulterated (i.e. – contaminated) is illegal to sell under Title 21, Section 500.35 of the FDA’s Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which states in pertinent part:

“ …salmonella contamination of…animal feeds… must be regarded as an adulterant…” Title 21 makes it clear that, according to law, the FDA has a zero-tolerance pathogen policy for all commercial pet foods – including raw foods.

The USDA does not employ the same zero-tolerance pathogen policy for foods purchased at your local grocery store for human consumption. So, why don’t people become ill from grocery store meat more often? The answer is likely because the meat most people eat is cooked, thereby killing the pathogens.

When you feed this same meat to your pet in a raw state, no safeguard has been taken to ensure destruction of harmful organisms. If you are feeding a healthy pet, it is unlikely she will suffer any ill effects. However, the likelihood of human contact with potentially harmful pathogens may be increased compared with exposure to commercial raw diets manufactured using HPP. Pets with compromised immune systems may also be at higher risk of succumbing to illness related to these pathogens.

The bottom line

HPP is a viable solution for those who wish to feed their pets a nutritious raw diet while minimizing risks associated with exposure to harmful pathogens – both to the pet and human family members.

HPP raw diets may make sense for you if:
• You are feeding an immune-compromised animal
• You are concerned about potential shedding of Salmonella or other pathogens
• A toddler, elderly or health-compromised person shares your household or comes into contact with your pet(s)

Regardless of which type of raw diet you choose, practicing impeccable hygiene is essential. Always thoroughly scrub and wash your food preparation surface as well as your pet’s bowl and any utensils used. And, never let any unfinished portion sit in your pet’s bowl for longer than 10 – 15 minutes, as it will become a natural breeding ground for harmful organisms.

One last note on raw…

I would like to wrap up this post by addressing the confusion that exists among many consumers regarding dehydrated and freeze-dried “raw” diets.

Dehydrated diets

Dehydration uses heat to remove the food’s water content. Research shows that heating foods to 118 degrees Fahrenheit or higher destroys much of the nutrients: therefore, such foods are not “raw”. I suggest you contact the manufacturer to find out its dehydration method. If the food is subjected to temperatures above 118 degrees Fahrenheit, you are not feeding your pet a “raw” product. It may still be very nutritious, but it won’t be raw.

Freeze-dried diets

Freeze-drying removes water from a material (e.g. food) without altering its original structure or composition. Since freeze-drying is not a heat-based process, the nutritional integrity of the original food is maintained: freeze-dried diets are indeed “raw”. When handling freeze-dried raw foods, be sure to follow the same safe-handling hygiene of fresh or frozen raw diets to avoid the potential spread of pathogens. Also, note that unless your freeze-dried diet was manufactured using a kill-step such as HPP, it should not be considered a pathogen-free raw product.

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