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No bird flu risk for consumers from properly cooked poultry and eggs, says UN

No bird flu risk for consumers from properly cooked poultry and eggs, says UN

Slaughtering infected birds poses the greatest risk of passing bird flu to humans, and chicken and other poultry are safe to eat if cooked properly, two United Nations agencies said today of the virus which in a worst case scenario could mutate into a deadly human pandemic.

“Cooking of poultry (e.g. chicken, ducks, geese, turkeys and guinea-fowl) at or above 70° Celsius throughout the product, so that absolutely no meat remains raw and red, is a safe measure to kill the H5N1 virus in areas with outbreaks in poultry, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

“From the information currently available, a large number of confirmed human cases acquired their infection during the home slaughtering and subsequent handling of diseased or dead birds prior to cooking,” they added, noting that the virus can transfer to humans through direct contact.

But they still warned that no birds from flocks with disease should enter the food chain. In areas where there is no bird flu outbreak in poultry, there is no risk that consumers will be exposed to the virus via the handling or consumption of poultry and poultry products.

Proper cooking inactivates the virus present inside eggs, too. The virus can be found inside and on the surface of eggs laid by infected birds. Although sick birds will normally stop producing eggs, eggs laid in the early phase of the disease could contain viruses in the egg-white and yolk as well as on the surface of the shell.

Pasteurization used by industry for liquid egg products is also effective in inactivating the virus. Eggs from areas with outbreaks should not be consumed raw or partially cooked, as with runny yolk, FAO/WHO said. To date, there is no epidemiological evidence to suggest that people have been infected with avian influenza by consumption of eggs or egg products.

Ever since the first human case of H5N1, linked to widespread poultry outbreaks in Viet Nam and Thailand, was reported in January last year, UN health officials have warned that the virus could evolve into a human pandemic if it mutates into a form which could transmit easily between people.

The so-called Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1920 is estimated to have killed from 20 million to 40 million people worldwide. Overall, there have been 132 reported human H5N1 cases, 68 of them fatal, all in South-East and East Asia. Some 150 million domestic birds have died or been culled in an effort to curb the spread.