Wednesday, 25 September 2019
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Shelf-Life and Storage for Baked Dog Treats

Homemade dog treats in containers for storage

Our current FAQs, Tips, and Troubleshooting mini-series is all about DIY dog treats and today we're wrapping up the series (and the treats) with a look at the shelf life and storage of homemade baked biscuit dog treats. 

We've talked about storage for other treat types in their respective mini-series posts (links below), but baked biscuit storage concerns common for home bakers and we though it worthwhile sharing a comprehensive overview all on its own. Tip: Baked biscuit dog treats are similar to homemade human biscuits/cookies/crackers and for general guidelines on different shelf lives and storage, sites like Still Tasty or Eat by Date can be helpful. 

Most commercial dog treats use preservatives and/or low-moisture content to extend their shelf life. Interested in knowing more? Dog Food Guru has an overview of synthetic and natural preservatives used within the pet food industry and Food Business News has an interesting article on some of the baking and drying technologies used in the pet food/treat industry. Since homemade treats are usually prepared without the use of added preservatives, their shelf-life is usually very limited in comparison. Moisture control can be used to some extent by home bakers as part of the preparation process. 

The edible life of a homemade baked biscuit/cookie dog treat varies greatly, and key factors include the treat ingredientshow the treat was prepared, and the conditions in which it is stored.  

The first step towards a baked good "going off" is usually notices as staleness, but unless you're sampling them yourself, this would be missed on dog treats. Oils and fats in treats can oxidise and go rancid. Bacteria on/in treats can multiply, and while dogs are generally more resilient to food-borne bacteria thanks to their acidic stomachs, vulnerable dogs and/or the people in contact may not be so fortunate. Treats can go moldy, as dormant fungal spores picked up from the air, surface contact, and/or during handling (they're everywhere, even if you keep things very clean) find enough moisture to start growing and begin breaking down the treat for it's food. Mold is a natural part of the decomposition process and (yuck factor aside) not all mold is dangerous, but some types produce harmful toxins. Caution: If in doubt, throw it out. Yes, wasting treats is a bummer, but spoiled food can be dangerous for pets and the people around them. Better safe than sorry. 


Ingredients and Homemade Dog Treat Shelf Life


Tip: Quality homemade treats start with quality ingredients. Whether for people or for pets, freshness and safe storage of ingredients is important. Read ingredient labels, trust your sources, select with care, store properly, and pay attention to use-by dates. 

If you consider all the things that can help make a homemade baked biscuit treat doggone delicious, most of them have brief safe consumption lives at room temperature and limited refrigerator lives,  even if they've been heated/cooked, including fish, meat, stock, purred fruits, pureed vegetables, dairy, eggs, and other popular homemade dog treat ingredients. Other ingredients loose their stability as soon as their containers are unsealed, such packets, cans, and jars. Even if the ingredients have extended open stable shelf (or refrigerator) lives, once you mix and bake them into a treat, all bets are off.  

We don't use any speciality preservatives when we make our treats, although these can be bought for treat making.  Some treat ingredients have natural preservative properties, but these generally aren't  used in sufficient quantities to make a substantial difference to shelf life and/or their natural preservative properties may be altered by the cooking/baking process. For most homemade treats, hygienic food handling, moisture control, and storage conditions are the primary lines of  defence against spoilage. 

Soft fish and meat treats are the most vulnerable in our experience (I always keep these frozen), but all homemade treats benefit from careful food handling and storage. Moist protein-rich foods are great breeding grounds for bacteria and soft treats of all varieties are prime for growing mold, with plenty of moisture and organic material to act as food. The baking process kills most bacteria and mold spores (excluding certain heat-resistant exceptions), but these are easily picked up after baking during handling, surface contact, and/or ambient air. 

Moisture and Homemade Dog Treat Shelf Life


In most cases, the drier the treat, the more stable it will be. Crunchy dry and dehydrated treats are more stable than soft cookies as the environment is less hospitable for bacteria and mold, which helps to delay spoilage and extend shelf life. Removing moisture from a treat through extended baking time (lower the temperature and lengthen the baking time) or post-baking dehydrating can help to extend shelf-life and also create a crisper crunchier treat. Treats can be dried after baking by leaving them in the oven after baking with door slightly ajar (or fan operating) while the oven cools or using a dehydrator. I often leave my treats in the oven, but if I want an extra dry crunchy treat, I'll use the dehydrator.  I often dehydrate baked treats for the crunch factor, even though I almost always store my treats frozen. I find that lightly baking and then dehydrating creates a better finished treat, especially if working with low-fat doughs and/or shapes and stamps. Caution: Removing additional moisture from baked goods can make them more prone to cracking and crumbling. See the our previous post for additional information on troubleshooting common problems with baked dog treats.


Homemade baked biscuit dog treats being dried in a dehydrator


It is also important to allow the finished treats to cool thoroughly prior to storage. Putting warm treats into a contain will trap residual steam/moisture and result in soggy treats, which can accelerate spoilage. Tip: See below regarding reducing exposure to new contaminants during cooling. Once cool, transfer the treats to a suitable container.  Similarly, if treats are being defrosted from frozen (as noted below) it is beneficial to ensure they are allowed to defrost dry before being sealed storage in ambient or refrigerated conditions.

Ambient Conditions and Homemade Dog Treat Shelf Life


The ambient conditions will also affect stored shelf-life, so store the container in a suitable location - treats last longer in cool, dry, dark conditions.  These are the least favourable conditions for the common modes of food spoilage that can affect baked biscuit dog treats. 

Tips: Cleanliness and good food handling practices are important during preparation, making/baking, and whenever handling the finished treats. The baking process kills most bacteria and mold spores, but new these are easily picked up after baking during handling, surface contact, and/or ambient air. 

In order for you baked goods (pet or person) to cool thoroughly prior to storage, as noted above, they have to transition through temperatures that are perfect for new ambient bacteria and mold spores. Commercial facilities sometimes use special vacuum cooling systems to accelerate cooling speed and control exposure between baking and packaging, and some also use special surface decontamination methods prior to packaging, such as infra red radiation and ultraviolet light. In the home kitchen, good hygiene and careful food handling after baking can help. If you're using the cooling oven or post-baking dehydration, keeping your treats in these environments until completely cooled for storage can also reduce exposure risks

Once ready to store, make sure your treat storage container(s) are thoroughly cleaned and sanitised.  Tip: Well-used plastic containers can be difficult to sanitise due to surface scratches. I use them in the freezer (like the box in the photo above) because I have lots and they stack great; however, I use small glass jars (repurposed empties) for any short term supplies at room temperature and for refrigerated treats.

For most treats, airtight is best and less air is better, so aim for a full container (or sealed bag) if possible. If you opt to put the container in the fridge, it should be airtight irrespective of the treat type.  Tip: If you are mixing types of treats in a container for storage, avoid combining soft cookie treats with hard dry treats (although this isn't necessary if you are freezing right away). Moisture from the soft treats will make your dry treats soggy. Treats can also absorb each other's scents affecting flavour, but it's unlikely the dogs would object! I mix baked treats to economise space (as you can see in the photo above). Other types of treats (meatballs, jerky, etc) I prefer to freeze in their own separate containers. 

The ambient conditions in your kitchen or pantry can vary significantly depending on the time of year, weather conditions, and home heating/cooling. Treats will spoil faster in hot, sticky, humid conditions. Refrigeration and freezing are ways of modifying the ambient conditions to be even less favourable to spoilage: cool, dry, and dark. Low temperatures slow the growth of microorganisms as well as the rate of oxidisation and other chemical changes within food. When these temperatures drop below freezing, water becomes unavailable for continued growth. Microorganisms are further slowed and may go dormant until conditions return to a more favourable environment. 

What's the Best Way to Store Homemade Dog Treats?


Well, that's a matter of personal opinion, but I prefer to freeze homemade dog treats for extended safe storage.  In addition to being the safest option and super easy, it also allows me to keep a variety of treats on hand so that there's always something different available to the treat jar and a walkies pocket treat bag. Tip: Defrosting uncovered (I just pop mine into a small jar or dish) allows the treats to thaw without trapping moisture or condensation for dry thawed treats. They can then be consumed or the lid popped on for short-term sealed dry storage. Pawfect! 

In theory, treats can be frozen indefinitely, but most frozen food is vulnerable to freezer burn. This doesn't affect food safety, just food quality. Freezer burn is caused by exposure to air, leading to dehydration over time.  Fortunately, if you aim is a dry, crispy, crunchy dog treat, then having the cold freezer suck residual moisture out of your treats isn't cause for panic, although it may also affect appearance, flavour and/or texture.   Tip: The less air in the treat container/wrapping and the better the container/wrapping seal against air transfer, the lower the risk and severity of freezer burn. Freezer burn can also be exacerbated by temperature settings or fluctuations in the functioning of your freezer. 

I hope that you enjoyed the homemade treat mini-series, and that it answered some of the questions you've had about making and storing different types of homemade dog treats. Regular weekly posting will resume each Monday starting from next week. See you then, furfriends!


Check out the Homemade Dog Treat FAQs, Tips, and Troubleshooting mini-series for more information on treat making, storage, and more: 

Ready to hit the kitchen? You can use our DIY Dog Treat Recipes navigation page to start your explorations, dive straight into all of our homemade dog treat related posts in the blog archives, search the blog from our sidebar, or hop over to our Pinterest for more ideas. 

🦴 Remember, treats (bought or homemade) are for spoiling your pup in moderation. We share ideas here from treats that we make ourselves for our pets, but different animals will have different preferences (likes/dislikes) and dietary needs. Some pets may have special dietary requirements and/or food allergies/intolerances. If you are ever in doubt or have questions about what's suitable for your pet, have a chat with your trusted vet.

2 comments:

  1. It sounds like vacuum packing and freezing is the best rout for longer term storage.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Vacuum packing is a great option, if you have the equipment. We just use normal reusable containers and they still work well. :)

      Do you have a vacuum sealer? Is it conventional single-use or do you use the new reusable vacuum bags? If you're using the bags, I'd be interested in hearing how they're working for you - not for treats as I'm happy with container storage but for some of our garden produce. I'm always leery about how much re-use those sorts of products can actual handle before becoming waste plastic. We've used the big blanket-sized vacuum bags (several brands) in the past for storage/moving and I've never been very impressed, unfortunately.

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