Safe Food Handling
Food Storage, Waste and Being Penny-Wise and Pound Foolish
By L. Vanessa Gruden in Paw Printz, September – October, 1999
Recently, I ate at a buffet for dinner. Around 5 a.m., I awoke with a pounding headache, nausea, etc…all the happy symptoms of food poisoning.
If you watch a busy buffet staff, you’ll see that they try to always keep selections from emptying. As soon as the spot gets low, they bring in another platter of the same item. If you’re really observant, you’ll see that the older food isn’t thrown out; it is scraped on top of the new platter and replaced on the buffet board. While in theory the older food should get eaten first and be perfectly fine, it is possible that a piece or two could slide by through several of these procedures. Enough, perhaps, for it to spoil and cause the unpleasant food poisoning I experienced.
So, what’s the point? No, I’m not trying to turn you off forever to buffets! I want to relate this process to the process you use to replace the food in your ferret’s bowl.
You know how ferrets munch each piece of kibble, usually leaving little crumbs in the bottom of the bowl, right? When you fill your ferret’s food dish, do you just pour more in? If you do, eventually you’ll end up with a big pile of old, nibbled kibble at the bottom. And if you glance quickly at it, think “oh, they’ve got food” and leave it, they’ll end up eating that old stuff. And you’re risking a really nice case of food poisoning for your little friend.
Is the potential for illness and a trip to the vet really worth a few cents worth of dry kibble? The best practice is to throw out all the leftover kibble and thoroughly wash and dry the food bowl every day. While you might sneak away for a day without washing, you should at least empty out the bowl and wipe out the oily residue left inside with a clean paper towel.
With practice and attention, you can learn about how much your ferret(s) eat in a day and put down about the right amount. Overfilling the bowl is an equally risky habit. A huge, full food bowl for a couple animals will get stale and could draw bugs. Would YOU eat a bowl of cereal that had been sitting out all day?
Don’t forget the water bowl! Ferrets are notorious for dipping food in their water and it gets scummy pretty fast. Water in a bowl should be changed at least every day and the bowl wiped out with a paper towel. Take a look at the towel after you wipe, and you will see all the icky scum that’s accumulated in a short time. Again, their water bowl should be thoroughly washed and sanitized at least every other day.
“Ah,” you smugly say, “I use a water bottle, so I don’t need to constantly clean it.” Beep! Wrong answer! Don’t you think that little weaselly tongues leave residue behind? Clean that nozzle at least once a week, and scrub out that bottle with a bottle brush, or run it through a high-powered dishwasher. (Make sure to rinse it well, so no detergent residue remains.) Are you still using a plastic water bottle? Honestly, my taste buds are not that extraordinary, but I can definitely taste the difference between water that’s been kept in plastic and water that’s been stored in glass. And I can taste when the water has sat for a couple of days, too. Think how much more of a taste difference there is for our little sensitive furry buddies! If you can’t find a glass water bottle in your local pet store, look online. Glass bottles used to be very expensive, but Lixit came out with a good-sized glass bottle that is reasonably priced. And sometimes an old plastic bottle nozzle will fit on some glass soda containers. Try it! Your ferrets will be happier and healthier.
While on the subject of the containers, are you using a plastic bowl for their food, too? Besides the fact that they’re probably kicking it around constantly, plastic will permanently pick up food odors and oils. Try storing some spaghetti sauce in a cheap plastic container, and you’ll see exactly what I mean-that red stain NEVER goes away! Ceramic bowls are inexpensive and colorful, but be sure they are good quality so they will survive frequent washings. Eventually, ceramic glazes can start to crack or become chipped, and the bowl should be thrown out. Stainless steel is a wonderful material, long-lasting, non-porous so it won’t easily harbor bacteria, and easy to keep clean.
Now, for a last lecture, how do you store your bag of dry food? There doesn’t seem to be much sense in spending $40-plus for a bag of the best ferret food around, having it shipped next day air to your home, then allowing it to sit in the bag with the top loosely rolled up for months. You may scrutinize every ingredient and protein percentage on that bag, but have you ever read the part that says, “Store in an airtight container?” How fresh would your cereal stay if you left it like that? Airtight pet food containers are reasonably priced and can be found in in pet stores, WalMart, or on Amazon. Spend the few dollars to keep that expensive food fresh, please, and don’t forget to thoroughly wash and dry this container before you put in more food. NEVER add “new’ food to old! Just like a grocery store “rotates” stock by putting older cans up front on a shelf, you want to use up all the old first.
While buying big food containers might seem expensive, one incentive is that you can then purchase larger size bags of food, which reduces the price per pound significantly. i keep the bulk of our food in a big bin and transfer a small amount to a cereal storage container to keep in each shelter room for daily bowl refills.
So many people are so fanatic about what brand of food their ferret eats. Myself, I sincerely feel HOW you feed your ferret is even more important. Who is the “better” owner-the one who only buys Totally Ferret but lets the bag sit in the hot sun, open to the bugs, and leaves kibble in the bowl and lying on the floor until every piece is eaten (because it’s SO expensive)? Or the owner feeding Purina Kitten Chow who cleans the food and water bowld daily, throws out all crumbs, and vacuums around bowls religiously? What do you think?