We’re wrapping up our current DIY dog treat FAQ mini-series (and the treats) with a look at homemade dog treat food safety and storage. Today’s post in all about shelf life and storage for homemade baked biscuit (cookie) dog treats and factors affecting edible life. We’ve covered storage for other treat types in their respective mini-series posts, but baked biscuit-style homemade dog treat shelf life and storage concerns are very common for home bakers, so we thought it would be worthwhile sharing a comprehensive overview all on its own.
Homemade Dog Treats vs. Commercial Dog Treats
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 and treat industry.
The shelf-life of homemade baked biscuit dog treats is usually very limited in comparison to their commercial counterparts. Homemade treats are usually prepared without added preservatives. Moisture control can be used to some extent by home bakers as part of the preparation process, but most home bakers can’t achieve the same level or consistency as a commercial manufacturer.
Understanding Dog Treat Shelf Life
What Determines a Dog Treat’s Shelf Life?
The edible life of a homemade baked biscuit or cookie dog treat can vary greatly. Key factors include the treat ingredients, how the treat was prepared, and the conditions in which it is stored. We’ll take a deep dive into all of those factors later in this post.
How Do Good Treats Go Bad?
The first step towards a baked good “going off” is usually notices as staleness. Unless you’re sampling the dog’s treats yourself, this would be missed on dog treats. Foods baked with starchy ingredients, including biscuit style dog treats, slowly go stale over time as the structure and moisture levels shift.
Oils and fats in treats can oxidise and eventually go rancid. Unless you’re sharing the treats, you won’t notice changing flavours and potentially not scents either. Oxidised foods can have reduced nutritional value and/or develop potentially dangerous compounds.
Bacteria on or in treats can multiply. 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 mouldy. Dormant fungal spores picked up from the air, surface contact, and/or during handling (they’re everywhere, even if you keep things very clean) can find enough moisture to start growing and begin breaking down the treat for their own food. Mould is a natural part of the decomposition process and (yuck factor aside) not all mould 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
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.
Ingredient Stability and Individual Shelf Life
If you consider all the things that can help make a homemade baked biscuit treat doggone delicious, many are shelf life limited. They have brief safe consumption lives at room temperature and limited refrigerator lives, even if they’ve been heated or cooked, including fish, meat, stock, purred fruits, pureed vegetables, dairy, eggs, and other popular homemade dog treat ingredients. Other ingredients lose 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.
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. Soft treats of all varieties are prime for growing mould, with plenty of moisture and organic material to act as food. The baking process kills most bacteria and mould spores (excluding certain heat-resistant exceptions), but these are easily picked up after baking during handling, surface contact, and/or ambient air.
We don’t use any special 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, quality ingredients, hygienic food handling, moisture control, and storage conditions are the primary lines of defence against spoilage.
Moisture and Homemade Dog Treat Shelf Life
Moisture and Stability
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 Baked Biscuit Dog Treats
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. It can 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. Removing additional moisture can, however, make them more prone to cracking and crumbling. See our previous post for additional information on troubleshooting common problems with baked dog treats.
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 lower fat doughs and/or shapes and stamps.
Avoid Additional Moisture During Storage and Handling
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 and/or moisture and result in soggy treats, which can accelerate spoilage. Once cool, transfer the treats to a suitable container. See below regarding reducing exposure to new contaminants during cooling.
Similarly, if treats are being defrosted from frozen, as noted below, it’s beneficial to ensure they defrost dry before being transferred to sealed storage in ambient or refrigerated conditions.
Ambient Conditions and Homemade Dog Treat Shelf Life
Ambient Conditions and Spoilage
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 mould spores, but new these are easily picked up after baking during handling, surface contact, and/or ambient air.
Cooling Prior to Storage
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 mould 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. It reduces repeat handling after heating and avoid treats sitting in uncovered in the ambient kitchen environment to cool.
Once ready to store, make sure your treat storage container(s) are thoroughly cleaned and sanitised. 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. 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.
If you are mixing 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.
Storage Location and Conditions
The ambient conditions in your kitchen or pantry can vary significantly depending on the time of year, weather conditions, and home heating and/or 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. The less air in the treat container or wrapping and better the seal against new 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.
Keen to Try a Few Treats?
Check out the full mini-series topic for an introduction to the main categories of different homemade dog treats we make and share here on the blog:
- Why (and How) to Make Homemade Dog Treats
- Frozen and Chilled Homemade Dog Treats
- Homemade Gelatin Gummy Dog Treats
- Homemade Dehydrated Dog Treats
- Homemade Birthday and Special Occasion Dog Cakes
- Homemade Baked Biscuit (Cookie) Dog Treats
- Decorating Homemade Baked Biscuit Dog Treats
- Homemade Baked Dog Treat Shelf Life and Storage
We have all sorts of treat related posts here on the blog. You can sniff around our DIY dog recipes, use our categories and tags to navigate, or use the internal search function to look for specific types or treats or treat ingredients. You can also hop over to our DIY Dog Treat Recipes board on Pinterest for ideas from here and all around the web. We’ve also started a Pet Chef Help board on Pinterest with handy links on things like ingredients, substitutions, conversions, tinting, and more.
Hungry for more tasty treats? There are all sorts of homemade dog treat ideas in our blog archives. You can also use use the category and tag labels above/ below this post to find other recipes that might be of interest or use our internal search tools to find something specific. Remember, treats (bought or homemade) are for spoiling your pup in moderation. We share ideas from treats that we’ve made ourselves for our pets, but different animals have different preferences (likes/dislikes), just like people. 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.