If you're like most pet owners, you buy a bag of pet food, open it, and pour it into a container for storage.  But it turns out that this common practice may make your pet's food less nutritious and potentially expose your pet to health risks.

Ideal storage conditions

Hopefully, you've learned a lot from your vet and you carefully (and objectively) select the best food for your pet.  But what you do after you buy the food is an important part of keeping your pet healthy and safe, and providing her with the best possible nutrition.  Dry and canned pet food should be stored indoors in cool temperatures (ideally, keeping the temperature under 80˚F) with low humidity.

 When exposed to high temperatures or humidity, fats in pet foods can become rancid and nutrients in the food can break down.  High temperature and humidity also provide the perfect environment for mold and bacteria to thrive.  Pet food shouldn't get too cold either, so avoid storing pet food outdoors where freezing temperatures are possible.

Tip: Store pet food inside in a dry and cool area. Extreme heat, cold, and humidity can affect the quality, safety, and nutritional value of the food.

Use the bag's protection

Ideally, dry food should be stored in its original bag. Many manufacturers put a lot of research into packaging and test the shelf life of the food in the original packaging.  Not only can the bags help to minimize pests and other contamination, but they can also help protect the nutrients in the food from breaking down.  In addition, all the critical information you need about the food is located on the label (UPC code, 'best by' date, etc – see below).

Tip: Lose the air!  After feeding, squeeze out as much as much air as possible from the bag and close it securely using the bag's seal, a bag clip, or tape.  Exposure of dry pet food to air causes nutrients to break down faster and can expose the food to bacteria in the environment.

In case of emergency

In addition to improving storage, keeping food in its original bag also allows quick access to crucial information in the event of a recall or foodborne illness.  This includes the manufacturer and exact product, the UPC code, lot number, and 'best by' date.

Tip: If you don't store your pet's food in its original bag, record the manufacturer, exact product name, UPC code, lot number, and 'best by' date each time you begin a new bag of food.  This information can be cut out from the label and filed or written down and taped to the storage container.  You can also take a photo of these key areas of the label so they're stored on your phone.

Pets: Keep out!

It's best to store the food in its original bag with the entire bag placed in an airtight container.  If your pet gets into his own food and overeats or gets into the food intended for another pet, he could get very sick.  If putting the entire bag in the airtight container is not feasible, keep the bag tightly sealed (see above) and out of your pet's reach.

Tip: Some pets are particularly dedicated and resourceful at opening food storage bins so you may need to invest in an extra secure dog-proof container or store the food in a room that your pet can't get access to.

Avoid pests

Insects, rodents, and other pests can get into your pet's food.  Keeping your pet's food in an airtight container helps to keep pests out of it (in addition to hungry pets!).  In addition, store the food off the floor to minimize pests.

Tip: If you pour your pet food into another container, be sure the food in that container has been completely used up before adding new food.  Wash and completely dry the container between new bags.

Storage mites

In addition to bacterial or rodent visitors, dry food can become contaminated with storage mites.  This can occur when pet food is stored open to the air but these sneaky little critters can also invade through defective seals in pet food bags.  They grow well in foods rich in protein- and fat-rich foods, so most pet foods provide perfect conditions.

Tip: Pet foods contaminated with storage mites can cause allergies in dogs and cats, one of the many reasons pets can be incorrectly diagnosed with food allergies (true food allergies are very uncommon).

Canned food

Canned food also needs to be stored properly.  Generally, storage temperatures for canned food are similar to those for dry food (40-80˚F).  Avoid letting canned food freeze as it can affect the taste, texture, and nutritional value of the food.

Tip: Once you open a can of pet food, refrigerate any unused food immediately.  Once opened – even if refrigerated – canned food should be discarded after 72 hours.

How long can you use it?

Unopened pet food should be used before the 'best buy' date on the label.  How long your pet food stays fresh after you open it depends many factors, including how you store it.  To keep it as fresh and nutritious as possible, once you open a new bag of pet food, I recommend using it within 2-3 months.  If your food bags last longer, I recommend buying the food in smaller bags.  While these times and storage recommendations provide general guidelines, you can also contact the manufacturer of your pet's food  – some have done extensive research on optimal storage conditions and shelf life testing for their individual products.

Tip: Recommended storage times after opening and 'best by' dates can vary with by manufacturer and for individual products (for example, diets high in fish oil will usually have a shorter shelf life).  Check the 'best by' date on your pet's bag of food to ensure you're feeding your pet the safest, freshest, and most nutritious food possible.

by Clinical Nutrition

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