Is It Safe to Eat Packaged Food that May Have Touched Rats and Rat Droppings?

Rat and rat droppings can present health hazards. In addition, rat urine and saliva can also cause health issues. With these different ways in which things associated with rats can be health risks, you may legitimately wonder whether it is safe to eat packaged food that may have come into contact with rats and rat droppings.

As is discussed in more detail in a moment, if rats or rat droppings have come into contact with packaged food, you need to give serious through to disposing of it rather than eating it. Not everyone is in agreement that food that has come into contact with rodents in this manner should be disposed of. However, in the overall scheme of things, avoiding eating packaged food that has come into contact with rats or rat droppings is the only way to avoid a potential health issue that can arise if the food inside a package becomes contaminated in the preparation process because of the referenced exposure.

The Inherent Dangers of Rat Droppings

Rat droppings are inherently dangerous. This type of feces can contain different types of potentially dangerous viruses and bacteria. This includes the hantavirus, a pathogen which provides a useful illustration about the dangers of rat droppings.

When rat droppings dry, they become brittle. Dried rat droppings can crumble easily. When rat droppings crumble, dust is created, some of which can become airborne or otherwise spread. If the rat droppings are contaminated in any way with a type of virus or bacteria, those pathogens end up airborne with the dust. For example, hantavirus becomes airborne with the dust.

This contaminated rat droppings dust can end up inhaling. If it is inhaled, a person can become infected with hantavirus.

In addition to being inhaled, airborne rat droppings dust can settle after being airborne. For example, it can settle on packaged food. In some instances, the dust may form a virtually invisible micro-layer on top of food packages.

If a food package that has some of this contaminated dust on it is opened, the dust will filter onto the food itself. If that food is consumed, a person who eats it can end up infected with hantavirus. (The possible impact of that type of infection is presented later in this article.)

Although this scenario may seem fanciful, it is not. The reality is that with alarming frequency, packaged food that comes into contact with rats and rat droppings results in this type of potential risk throughout any given year.

With that noted, there are other more common pathogens that can contaminate packaged food that has come into contact with rats or rat droppings. Nonetheless, hantavirus is not something that can be dismissed outright.

Rat Hair and Dander

Beyond pathogen laced rodent droppings dust, many people are surprised to learn that rat hair and dander present a risk to people. Rat hair and dander can readily end up on food packages. This can happen even if all a rat does is run across a food package.

The results of some research undertaken fairly recently revealed that 25 percent of the population is allergic rodents, including rats. In addition, there is scientific evidence that rats and mice are a leading cause of asthma. In fact, there is developing research that now suggests that rats and mice might be the leading cause of asthma.


Salmonella bacteria can be spread by rats. As is the case with hantavirus, the possibility exists that contact on food packaging by rats or rat droppings may result in the contamination of the food inside the food package. Salmonella is rarely fatal; however, it can make a person ill – even fairly seriously ill.

Safety Practices

Because of the risks posed by rats and rat droppings, even when it comes to packaged food items, regulatory agencies have created strict rules for how packaged and other types of foodstuffs need to be stored in a restaurant. Generally speaking, packaged dry goods need to be stored six inches off the ground in rat-proof containers. This prevents rats from having direct contact with the packaging.

Unfortunately, many eateries fail to follow the specific guidelines or regulations developed by health agencies. As a result, one of the more common eatery health code violations involve deficiencies related to protecting against contamination by rats and rat droppings. In nearly any situation, a health code violation involving rats or rat droppings will be considered a major infraction. What that normally means is that an eatery will be shut down until an issue is addressed.