At Balanced Blends, we believe in doing our best to ensure the safety and health of both our human- and fur- fams.
This includes the young, elderly, and others with weakened or compromised immune systems.
- "Salmonella bacteria are the most frequently reported cause of foodborne illness." REFERENCE
- Grocery store raw meats (including organic) have been found by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to be contaminated with pathogens.
- Over a third of monitored processing facilities exceeded the maximum allowable Salmonella contamination in the past year (mid 2017-2018)
- This is permissible because it is expected that raw meat products are cooked before serving.
- 97% of participants in a home study failed to wash their hands after handling raw poultry leading to cross contamination REFERENCE
In developing the Balanced Blends recipes and processes we strove to keep our products as close to raw as possible while also keeping your family as safe as possible. This involves a careful balancing act as any process which can kill dangerous pathogens will also alter the product. There is no best answer or method to keep the product simultaneously 100% raw and safe!
If you are interested in unprocessed raw products, we suggest that you make food for your furfam at home and carefully complete a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) study of your kitchen to ensure you do not accidentally spread pathogens during production or at meal time.
If you are interested in a commercial product, please be advised that all commercial interstate pet food vendors are expected to ensure all products are pathogen free before distribution. The FDA has a zero-tolerance policy for pathogen contamination in raw pet foods and considers contaminated products to be adulterated, and therefore prohibited from interstate commerce.
FDA considers a pet food to be adulterated under section 402(a)(1) of the FD&C Act (21 U.S.C. 342(a)(1)) when it is contaminated with Salmonella and will not subsequently undergo a commercial heat step or other commercial process that will kill the Salmonella. REFERENCE
In practice, the question isn't whether vendors need a process to kill pathogens (kill step), rather it is which process to use.
Kill steps that we considered:
High Heat Pasteurization - The most effective and broadest kill step known. This method is equivalent to home cooking. The method works by applying high heat to the product to a temperature sufficient to kill all cells (good and bad). Has the side effect of damaging a lot of nutrients in the process.
Low Heat Pasteurization - Just as effective as the high-heat version above, but takes substantially longer. This method is equivalent to the Sous Vide cooking technique used by many restaurants and home cooks to serve juicy meats cooked to what would be still considered raw by high-heat standards. The method works by bringing the product to a low temperature and then holding it there for a period of time longer than what living cells can tolerate.
Irradiation - Used in a wide array of human products such as spices, contact lens solution, and medical equipment to quickly sterilize without cooking/heat. May damage vitamins and other nutrients.
Bacteriophages - Used by a few raw pet food companies. The method works by introducing viruses into the product and allowing sufficient time at refrigerator temperatures for the virus to replicate to all pathogens and kill them. However, the FDA does not consider them to be a regulated additive permitted in animal foods.
Fermentation - Used by a few raw pet food companies. The method works by introducing yeast, bacteria, or enzymes into the final product which will grow and crowd out bacteria. This method can impact both beneficial and harmful bacteria. This technique consumes available sugars/carbohydrates meaning the product must have sufficient quantities of carbohydrates to make fermentation possible - Balanced Blends cannot use this technique as our feline foods only contain trace amount of carbohydrates. The product must also be held at refrigerator temperature for sufficient time for the process to occur.
High Pressure Processing (HPP) - Is considered to be a clean and natural method used by a wide range of raw pet food companies and a substantial number of human food companies (baby food, deli meats). The method works by holding the product at high pressures for long enough to ensure that cell membranes are damaged and crack open like an egg, thereby killing them. The key advantage of this method is that it pasteurizes the product while preserving delicate nutrients such as vitamins. The process does denature proteins, which means that the shape of the protein is changed making it not function as a component of a living cell - however, the protein's amino acids are all still available in highly digestible form - body builders often consume denatured proteins.
When to apply kill steps:
One question that comes up is when to apply the kill step and to what ingredients.
- Apply the kill step to the most likely contaminated products. This allows supplementation ingredients like probiotics to be used in the final product. The downside of this approach is that vendors cannot completely control against any pathogens that are introduced by unprocessed ingredients or may have accidentally contaminated the production equipment.
- Apply the kill step in final packaging which ensures that it is impossible to recontaminate the final product after the kill step has been applied. The downside of this approach is that beneficial bacteria are killed along with any harmful bacteria that may be present.
Impact of kill steps on bioflora
The short answer is that a pasteurized product will not impact your furfam's bioflora either positively or negatively. This is because the existing bioflora will consume the pasteurized food and adjust itself to the nutrients being provided by our raw food.
If you believe a member of your furfam has a damaged bioflora or you would like assistance in adjusting it, we recommend that you speak with your trusted veterinarian for assistance in finding a purpose focused solution as what is present in the wild on grocery store ingredients is unlikely to meet the specific needs of your furfam.
At Balanced Blends, after carefully considering the pros and cons of the various approaches, we chose to offer both HPP and Low Heat (gently steamed) Pasteurization. Same Species Balanced™ recipe prepared via these two kill steps in its final packaging. This allows us to ensure that the maximum nutrition is retained while ensuring the best safety possible for your entire family without adulterating the product with added preservatives.