The use of treats in animal training and management is becoming commonplace. The packaging that treats are stored and sold in varies but should protect the contents from environmental challenges and maintain the integrity and palatability of the product. The effect of different packaging types on the shelf-life of horse treats and their acceptance by horses over time was examined in a recent study (1).
Typical feed and treat packaging material include paper and plastic. These materials differ in their ability to protect contents from moisture and other environmental challenges. Paper is significantly less moisture-resistant than plastic. Plastic packaging is good at reducing mould growth but can harbour unpleasant aromas that affect the acceptability of contents and is not environmentally friendly. Horses have sensitive taste and olfactory abilities, and avoid unpleasant and unpalatable flavours and smells, preferring familiar odours (2). Ten horses were involved in the year-long study. Three different packaging materials were used to store apple-flavoured horse treats. Control treats were stored in plastic bags at -80oC (to inhibit natural degradation) whilst the two experimental conditions were storage in either sealed plastic or paper bags at ambient temperature (20±1°C).
The integrity of treats (moisture, humidity, mould, yeast and volatile organic acid content) and acceptability of the treats to the study horses was examined at five time points during the study – at 0, 3, 6, 9 and 12 months. Treats stored in paper had wider ranges of moisture and water activity than control or the plastic packaged treats, although moisture and water activity increased in all treatments over time (P < 0.01). Notably, the treats stored in paper bags had visible growth of mould observed by month 12, although the measured levels of mould and yeast for all conditions, at all time points were below detectable levels (<10 CFU/g). From month 6 to 12, there was moisture and fat absorption to the paper bag surface, in areas where mould formation was also seen.
Horse treat preference considered the number of treats consumed, and the storage conditions of treats sniffed, consumed, and finished first. Results were not significant, meaning treat acceptability to study horses could not be determined in this study. However, the shelf-life of horse treats may be influenced by the packaging material. This is of value in identifying appropriate storage conditions and time periods in relation to packaging material for equine feed and treat products.
1. Francis JM, Perry EB. (2020). The influence of packaging on palatability and shelf life stability of horse treats, Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, In Press, doi: Click HERE
2. van den Berg M, Giagos V, Lee C, Brown WY, Hinch GN. (2016). Acceptance of novel food by horses: the influence of food cues and nutrient composition, Appl Anim Behav Sci., 83:59–67. doi: Click HERE