If you buy your pup dry dog food, it likely comes in a bag and you store it in your kitchen for weeks or even months depending on the size. And with consumers spending an estimated $44 billion on pet food this year, that equates to a whole lot of kibble sitting around in cabinets and cupboards for extended periods of time.
“Dry dog food is processed to obtain a long shelf life. It’s dry meat byproducts, powdered vegetables, oils, etc. that are shelf stable at room temperature for up to 18 months,” says Dr. Oscar Chavez, veterinarian and lead of the Canine Nutrition Team at Just Food For Dogs. “No food that we eat is designed to last that long—but kibble is.”
According to Dr. Chavez, dry dog food is created in a similar way to boxed cereal. It’s made through a process called rendering and extrusion, which dehydrates the food to about 10 percent moisture, while also adding preservatives.
Kibble is normally purchased in dog food bags, and some pet parents choose to transfer the chow to another container or holder for convenience or more compact storage. But the original packaging isn’t just a useless paper or plastic bag. In fact, you might want to consider keeping your dog’s food in the original packaging for a myriad of reasons.
Reasons to Save Your Dog Food Bag
Holding onto your dog food bag can benefit you and your pup in many ways. Here are a few important reasons to keep your dog food bag.
Reason 1: You’ll Be Prepared for Recalls.
The Food & Drug Administration regulates the manufacture of (most) dog food, and also manages pet food recalls. And having your bag will not only help identify if your pet’s food is part of the recall, but it will also help inform other pet parents of possible issues with the pet food they’ve purchased.
“Pet food bags contain valuable details including its lot number and production batch information,” says Dr. Chavez. “Saving the bag can help you identify whether or not your particular bag of food has been involved in a recall. In the case that your pet may be among the first cases of a recall, the bag can help your veterinarian report the possible issue through the FDA portal. They will ask for this information when the report is filled out.”
Reason 2: It Preserves Shelf Life and Slows Spoiling.
Believe it or not, the lining of kibble bags isn’t a useless part of the packaging. It actually helps to preserve the food inside.
“Dry pet food companies rely on the lining of the pet food bag as the final layer of defense, which is specifically designed to extend the shelf life of the contents,“ says Dr. Chavez. “Heat, air, and sunlight can accelerate the spoiling process, and some heat or light sensitive nutrients can deteriorate.”
Reason 3: It Decreases Risk for Contamination.
By keeping your dog’s food in its original bag, you could also be reducing the risk of contamination.
“By leaving the food in the bag to begin with, you reduce the chance of introducing contamination through handling,” says Dr. Chavez. “Per the FDA, some pet food can already be contaminated, and by moving it out of the bag, you can risk contaminating other surfaces. It’s best to keep the pet food in its original bag until you feed it.”
Reason 4: It Helps You Stay on Top of Best-By Dates
Let’s face it, when you buy large bags of dog food or you have multiple pets in your home, it can be tough to keep track of expiration dates. But all bags of kibble have best-by dates printed directly on them, which makes it easy to see and remember when you need to use or throw out excess food.
Reason 5: It Keeps Pests Out of the Food.
Depending on where you store your dog food, the packaging can help keep critters out.
“If you keep your bag of food in the garage or outside, pests will either chew through the bag or climb in through the top (ants),” says Dr. Chavez. “However, if you keep the bag in a cool, dry cupboard inside the house or another dedicated container, then you will dramatically reduce the chance of pest or storage mites.”
If you’re worried about pests getting into the bag and would rather use an air-tight dog food storage container, simply find a container that will accommodate the whole bag. Place the bag of food in the container for an extra level of security.
Dog Food Bag Tips and Tricks
Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to maximizing the shelf life of your pup’s food.
Always assume food is going bad before the date printed on the label. “This is because most kibble is sprayed with oils and fat, as well as vitamin E, to preserve the fat from heat oxidation (spoiling),” says Dr. Chavez. But he explains that the vitamin E is used up over time as it protects the fat—especially in the presence of heat, moisture, and air.”
Store it in a cool, dry place. Heat and humidity of warmer months or certain climates can be a major contributing factor to your dog food spoiling faster.
“A large bag of kibble that has been opened and stored in the garage during a hot summer is unlikely to last to its sell by date. Assume it will go bad in days or weeks,” says Dr. Chavez. “Keep the food indoors in a dry, cool place.” (Here are 7 mistakes to avoid when storing dog food.)
Invest in an air-tight container. Preventing air from penetrating your dog’s food will help it last longer.“Keep the bag in an airtight container (but still in its original packaging),” says Dr. Chavez. (Here are 9 of our picks for the best food storage containers.)
Buy smaller food packages. If your pet and circumstances allow, consider buying smaller sizes of dog food.
“Often people buy dry pet food in large bulk sizes,” says Dr. Chavez. “This might work fine if you have five Rottweilers and they go through it quickly, but if you have one Yorkie, then you shouldn’t do this.”
Consider buying fresh pet food. If you want to feed your dog the freshest pet food, consider skipping kibble altogether. Fresh pet foods are typically pasteurized, similar to milk. This avoids many of the risks associated with raw food, while still providing a fresh alternative to kibble. Read food labels carefully to ensure that the food you are selecting is nutritionally balanced and designed to meet the needs of your dog’s life stage.
“Kibble (dry food) is not fresh. It is processed meat and other ingredients in a bag that is shelf stable for up to 2 years. That’s the opposite of fresh,” says Dr. Chavez. “If you want fresh food, buy refrigerated or frozen pet food and keep it in the fridge or freezer as directed by the packaging.” (Here’s everything you need to know about frozen dog food.)