Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida company's Arctic Mice blamed for salmonella in snake owners in 18 states

Reptile owners around the country are on alert. Two federal agencies are investigating. At least 37 people in 18 states have gotten sick. Five had to be hospitalized.

And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, the cause of all this is a dose of salmonella that can be traced back to a product sold by a Florida company.

The product: frozen mice, suitable for feeding to your pet snake.

The mice — and, if you order the large size, rats — are packaged and marketed under the name Arctic Mice. These frozen treats have been "raised in a sanitary environment" and "formula fed to provide superior nutrition for reptiles" and as a result they are "readily accepted by snakes and carnivorous lizards," according to the listing at PetSmart, which sells them.

Arctic Mice — please don't call them "mice-cicles" —are produced by Reptile Industries, a company started 30 years ago in Naples. Founders Mark and Kim Bell, according to a 2011 government report, are among a small group of reptile professionals who "have pioneered and expanded captive breeding within the United States." Their company's website boasts that their family-run operation is now the largest reptile breeder in America.

On Tuesday the CDC and the FDA issued a warning to "pet owners who have purchased frozen rodents packaged by Reptile Industries Inc., since Jan. 11, advising that these products have the potential to be contaminated with salmonella."

The Bells could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but through their daughter, Jamie Cassin, they released a statement that said they were cooperating with the FDA and CDC investigation. They said they have recalled some of their Arctic Mice — but not all of them.

"Reptile Industries Inc. has continued to sample bulk product as well as audit individual product for salmonella," they said. "No positive test results for the Arctic Mice brand frozen rodents have been received from the third-party testing conducted by Reptile Industries Inc."

So despite requests from the CDC and FDA that they recall all their Arctic Mice sold since January, when the first person fell ill, the company is only recalling one lot from April. That's the only one at their facility that tested positive for salmonella.

The salmonella investigation "will be a huge financial impact for us," Cassin said in a tearful interview Wednesday. She said she feared that the company she has known since she was a child might not survive the lost sales and heightened federal scrutiny, and at the very least layoffs of some long-time employees may be necessary.

Federal officials want Reptile Industries to consider installing equipment to subject its mice and rats to radiation prior to packing them up for sale, she said, but that might prove to be too expensive. While negotiations continue the company has stopped production of Arctic Mice, she said.

"We don't know what the future holds," she said.

The CDC referred questions to the FDA. The FDA did not return calls.

Salmonella infection is a constant risk for reptile owners. The bacteria that causes it lives on their animals and in the animals' intestines, and also is on the rodents they feed to their pets. Freezing the mice and rats won't kill the bacteria, either.

So snake and lizard fanciers have to wash their hands thoroughly after feedings and take other measures to avoid an infection that leads to diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps.

The whole feeding process can be complicated. As with your Birdseye brand Salisbury steak, frozen mice and rats need to thaw out to be appetizing. However, the PetSmart website says in bold letters: Do not microwave.

Instead, the future snake food must sit in a cup of water for 30 minutes. Then the owner can feed it to hungry Slythern the snake — holding it with tongs "to avoid accidental bites from your reptile" and shaking it a bit to make it seem alive.

Although Reptile Industries and its subsidiary — "the world's premier online supplier of snakes, lizards, turtles, tortoises, supplies and more" — offer a wide variety of homegrown products, the mice and rats they sell are the one thing that is not bred on-site, Cassin said.

"We get them from a variety of other places around the U.S.," she said. "It's hard to trace back where that one that tested positive came from."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Craig Pittman can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @craigtimes.

Florida company's Arctic Mice blamed for salmonella in snake owners in 18 states 05/21/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 21, 2014 11:09pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Review: Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald team up to cool down the Clearwater Jazz Holiday


    A cool breeze swept through Coachman Park Saturday night. Couple of them, actually.

    Kenny Loggins performed at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday on Oct. 21, 2017.
  2. No. 16 USF hangs on at Tulane, off to first 7-0 start


    NEW ORLEANS — After half a season of mismatches, USF found itself in a grudge match Saturday night.

    USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) runs for a touchdown against Tulane during the first half of an NCAA college football game in New Orleans, La., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Derick E. Hingle) LADH103
  3. Lightning buries Penguins (w/video)

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Ryan Callahan spent a lot of time last season rehabilitating his injured hip alongside Steven Stamkos, who was rehabbing a knee after season-ending surgery. During those hours, Callahan noticed two things about Stamkos: his hunger and his excitement to return this season.

    Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek (29) advances the puck through the neutral zone during the first period of Saturday???‚??„?s (10/21/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  4. Spain planning to strip Catalonia of its autonomy


    BARCELONA, Spain — The escalating confrontation over Catalonia's independence drive took its most serious turn Saturday as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain announced he would remove the leadership of the restive region and initiate a process of direct rule by the central government in Madrid.

    Demonstrators in Barcelona protest the decision to take control of Catalonia to derail the independence movement.
  5. Funeral held for soldier at center of political war of words (w/video)


    COOPER CITY — Mourners remembered not only a U.S. soldier whose combat death in Africa led to a political fight between President Donald Trump and a Florida congresswoman but his three comrades who died with him.

    The casket of Sgt. La David T. Johnson of Miami Gardens, who was killed in an ambush in Niger. is wheeled out after a viewing at the Christ The Rock Church, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017  in Cooper City, Fla. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP) FLMIH102