Pets are family. Now more than ever pet owners want to feed their dogs and cats as they feed themselves: natural and free from. Pet food companies have acknowledged the inner circle status of pets filling store shelves with a broad range of solution-oriented diets boasting high quality ingredients to improve health and longevity. Owners make careful choices, open the package and . . .
Just how long does an open bag of meat, fish or poultry last at room temperature? The answer is six weeks under ideal* storage conditions.
Dry pet food products with a shelf life specified in years is a promise that might convince owners food quality remains stable in or out of the bag. In fact the nutritional value of kibble begins its decline as soon as the bag is opened. Those “best by” and “best before” dates apply to sealed bags only.
The Big Four: Oxygen, Moisture/Humidity, Temperature, Sunlight
Kibble contains high levels of fat, a macronutrient extremely susceptible to oxygen. Opening the bag brings fat into contact with oxygen triggering a spontaneous process called oxidation. As fat oxidizes the nutritional quality of the food decreases, the food begins to smell (and taste) less appealing to your pet and eventually the fat becomes rancid.
High humidity, warm temperatures and sunlight speed up the oxidation process and increase the risk of storage mites (microscopic carbohydrate-loving creatures), invisible molds, mold mites and bacterial contamination such as Salmonella.
Countering the damaging effects of oxygen is the work of antioxidants, substances that play a dual role beginning in the dry food package and continuing in your pet’s body. Besides keeping kibble fresh, antioxidants are essential dietary nutrients that provide numerous benefits including immune system support for a long life and healthy aging. If fat-soluble antioxidants including vitamins A and E succumb to oxidation, nutrition for your pet will be incomplete. After the pet food bag is opened the success of antioxidants depends on handling and storage conditions.
Many pet owners prefer pouring fresh kibble from the bag into plastic storage containers. Plastics are tough, durable, convenient and moisture-, insect-, rodent-, pet-proof. Seems like a good idea. Unfortunately removing fresh kibble from the bag accelerates food degradation.
- At mealtime measured amounts of kibble hollow out more available space for oxygen.
- Rancid fat will accumulate on the sides and bottoms of storage containers (including automatic and gravity feeders) if not thoroughly cleaned between bags of fresh kibble.
- Refilling a container with fresh kibble on top of old kibble will taint the fresh kibble.
- Plastics can contribute off odors to kibble.
- Plastics have microscopic pores where oxidized fat can accumulate and oxygen can seep through.
About storing kibble in plastic bags:
- Zip-to-close kitchen storage bags offer good moisture protection but inadequate protection against light, oxygen and odors. Best for short-term storage (less than three days).
- Vacuum sealers are ideal for preserving individual servings for camping trips, kennel stays, visits to friends and family.
- Trash bags are not intended for fresh food contact.
Maintaining Kibble Freshness
Pet food bags are designed to be highly effective barriers against oxygen and moisture/humidity. Keeping kibble in the bag has the added benefit of retaining the expiration date and manufacturing codes if you (or your pet) find any problem with the food.
- Check the expiration date before opening the bag. The date should be at least a year away from date of purchase.
- Use a marker to record the date the fresh bag of kibble is opened or postdate by six weeks.
- Do not feed your dog or cat kibble that is more than six weeks old.
- In warm, humid conditions purchase smaller bags and replace every 2 weeks.
- Apply the same handling and storage principles to pet treats.
To store always squeeze as much air as possible out of the bag, reseal it or fold the top over and clip it. Placing the clipped bag inside an airtight container in a cool, dark, dry place will prevent rancidity for six weeks and significantly reduce the potential for mite infestation.
It’s Out Of The Bag
As enthusiastic consumers of food and funky stuff, most dogs make it impossible to tell when kibble has overstayed its welcome. Cats tend to be more selective. Signs include kibble dropped on the floor around the feeding area or lots of kibble crumbs, the result of biting off edges and ends before swallowing the less stale middles. Oversized dental care kibble is a tougher call. In the absence of abundant crumbs, a waning appetite may be another signal the food is stale.
Kibble is not as tough as it looks. After six weeks the nutritional quality of an open bag of dry pet food will be substantially lower than when the bag was first opened. The same can be said of kibble after 24 hours sitting in an open bowl.
Show your pet some food love: Treat kibble as if your pet’s long-term health depended on it.
* Ideal storage = cool, dark, dry, airtight. Less than or equal to 70 degrees F and humidity less than 15 percent.