The optimistic belief that Salmonella only infects other people

exemplifies a cognitive bias.

Although still a small portion of the overall pet food market, raw pet foodsales grew at faster rates than kibble or conventional wet dog and cat foodsduring the pandemic. With the rising popularity of raw pet foods, people maybelieve they are following safe practices more than they really are. Raw petfood brands may need to increase education of consumers on safe handling ofraw products to counteract pet owners’ cognitive biases. During a studyconducted in the United Kingdom, pet owners tended to underestimate healthrisks from improper handling of raw products, such as rinsing raw meat or notsegregating utensils and equipment. Researchers at Cardiff MetropolitanUniversity conducted a survey, reviewed online discussions and brand websites.Pet owners’ beliefs about their food safety practices may not match theiractual behaviors. The scientists published their results in the Journal ofFood Protection.

“The majority of pet owners perceived full confidence in their ability toprepare raw meat-based food safely and did not perceive themselves or membersof their family at risk of foodborne illness,” study author Veronika Bulochovasaid in an email. “It has been suggested that ‘optimistic bias’ (when someonebelieves they are less likely to experience a negative outcome than others)may contribute to pet owners’ perception of risk of potential foodborneillness and to neglecting food safety practices.
Habits and learnt behaviors are common in households and may lead to practicesperformed incorrectly or not employed at all. Moreover, mutual support amongpet owners in social media groups may lead to the endorsement of food safetymalpractices.”

This optimistic belief that Salmonella only infects other people exemplifiesa cognitive bias. These repeated, often subconscious and error-prone, mentalshortcuts were first described by psychologists Amos Tversky and DanielKahneman. In the case of raw pet foods, brands may need to do more tocounteract the tendency of pet owners to underestimate their ownvulnerability, Bulchova said.

In the study, the majority (61%) of raw pet food manufacturer or supplierwebsites failed to provide any food safety instructions or warnings to petowners, she said. The information was inconsistent and varied betweendifferent sources.

“Raw pet food companies could play an essential role in informing and enablingpet owners to engage with recommended food safety practices, when preparing orproviding raw meat for pets, to safeguard themselves, their families and theirpets,” she said. “Provision of information about the potential hazardsassociated with raw meat and raw meat-based pet diets, as well ascomprehensive information about the appropriate food safety practices isvital. Such information would enable pet owners to take appropriate actions tominimize the risk of possible foodborne illness in their household. Mostimportantly, interventions need to highlight that employment of food safetypractices benefits the pet owners.

Pet owners rely on social media and online sources for raw meat-based feedinginformation, she said. Social media sources and pet food companies’ onlinewebsites should be utilized for pet owner food safety education, alongside thecomprehensive product labelling and other traditional strategies.

Details of raw pet food safety beliefs research

Bulchova used an online research method to analyze more than 800 posts by petowners, in 26 discussion threads relating to raw pet feeding on the Pet ForumsCommunity, a pet owner social media site in the United Kingdom. She reviewed33 UK-based raw meat-based pet food manufacturers and supplier websites. Heronline questionnaire relating to food safety practices was completed by 174pet owners feeding raw meat-based diets.

Overall, she concluded that although pet owners were aware of potentiallydangerous microbes associated with raw meat, many pet owners underestimatedthe potential risks to their own health. Likewise, pet owners were confusedabout appropriate food safety practices. While pet owners were confident inthe safety of the products they purchased, they didn’t report consistentlyusing appropriate food safety practices. Two of the most frequently reportedmalpractices were rinsing raw meat (27%) and absence of segregated utensilsand equipment (52%).

Bulova recommended that raw pet food brands encourage customers to followthese practices:

  • Thaw raw meat-based pet food in a separate sealed container in the refrigerator
  • Do not wash raw meat.
  • Remove and dispose of any raw meat-based food not consumed by pets and clean the feeding area.
  • Ensure surfaces, utensils and bowls used for raw pet food are segregated from other kitchen equipment and are washed thoroughly after use.
  • After handling raw pet food or feeding bowls wash hands for 20 seconds using soap and rubbing all parts of the hands and fingers before rinsing and drying thoroughly.

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