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Most of us try to do the very best for our pets. I’ve often heard my clients say their pets eat better than they do. Filtered water, select ingredients, organic meats and the list goes on. They get the food home and immediately dump it in their state-of-the-art food bin to keep it fresh.

The problem is that’s really not the best way to preserve your pet’s expensive food. Pet food is often packaged to help preserve freshness. Removing the food from its packaging usually leads to faster spoilage, poor flavor and reduced nutrition.

There are at least three reasons to leave the food in its original packaging:

The container you put the new food in may have old food or residue inside that may negatively affect the new food.

The original packaging has important information such as lot numbers and expiration date.

Pouring the food from the bag to the bin exposes the food to air, which will speed up the breakdown of nutrients.

Old food and residue in the bin will eventually spoil and turn rancid in addition to simply losing its nutritional value. It will actually become harmful to eat. Any new food coming in contact with this old material will get contaminated and make your pet sick.

The information printed or stamped on the bag is very important. You should be able to find a lot number, expiration date and manufacturer contact information on the bag. Don’t throw it away. In the event of a recall, you will need that lot number to determine if your bag of food was affected. The expiration date of the food is pretty obvious. We look for the latest date on our food to get the most recent and freshest batch. It’s really the same thing with pet food.

Food companies often put time and research into the packaging of their product.

Some pet food companies vacuum package or nitrogen flush the bags of food to help preserve freshness, just like some of our food. Nitrogen flushing the bag of food displaces oxygen, thereby reducing the oxidation that normally occurs when food is exposed to air.

Think of fancy French wine and potato chips:

If someone ever gives you a fine bottle of Château Margaux for a special occasion and says make sure to decant it, what they are recommending is exposing the wine to air, which contains oxygen. For red wine, this is a good thing. It allows the elements of the wine to “open up” and develop all their wonderful flavors.

For food, however, the oxygen in the air speeds up the decay of the nutrients such as vitamins, fats and other ingredients. It is one of the reasons food becomes stale. You wouldn’t buy a bag of chips, dump them in a bowl and then eat them a week or two later. Stop decanting your pet’s food; it’s not expensive French wine.

So, now that your pet’s food is preserved in the original packaging and secured in the locked bin, keep it out of the sun and away from any heat source. The UV from the sun will quickly break down water-soluble vitamins and other very important nutrients. Also, try to buy bags of food in a size that your pet will consume in about a month or less. Even with ideal storage, once the bag is opened, food will begin to lose its nutritional value.

(By the way, when you do get the chips, I suggest eating the entire bag once opened to avoid risk of spoilage).

Dr. Greg Perrault owns and operates Cats & Dogs Animal Hospital in Long Beach and is a Commissioner on the city Board of Health and Human Services.

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