Avian Influenza and Food Safety

Agricultural Disaster Preparedness and Recovery November 18, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF
USDA FSIS "Be Food Safe"

Human infections of avian influenza have resulted from direct contact with poultry. Many people are concerned about consuming poultry meat and eggs. It is important to remember that NO ONE has become sick after eating properly cooked poultry or eggs.

Good food handling practices will prevent food borne illnesses.

  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw poultry and eggs.
  • During meal preparation, juices from raw poultry should never be allowed to touch or mix with foods that will be eaten raw.
  • Cutting boards and contaminated surfaces should be sanitized by scrubbing with soap and hot water.
  • Cook poultry to an internal temperature of at least 165 ⁰F. Ensure there are no pink parts.
  • The H5N1 virus can survive for at least 1 month at low temperatures. For this reason, refrigerated or frozen poultry should be handled and prepared with the same precautions as fresh products.
  • Cook eggs until the yolks and whites are firm. Casseroles and other dishes containing eggs should be cooked to 160 ⁰F.
  • Use shell eggs that have been treated to destroy Salmonella by pasteurization or another approved method, or use pasteurized egg products for recipes such as Caesar salad dressing and homemade ice cream that call for eggs that are raw or undercooked when the dish is served.

If highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) were detected in the United States, the chance of infected poultry or eggs entering the food chain would be extremely low, as the disease kills birds rapidly. In addition, safeguards are in place, which include testing of flocks and Federal inspection programs such as the USDA’s National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP). Commercial flocks that test positive or have been exposed to avian influenza will not go to market. Hens infected with HPAI usually stop laying eggs as one of the first signs of illness, and the few eggs that are laid by infected hens generally do not get through egg washing and grading because the shells are weak and misshapen.

Poultry and poultry products from areas experiencing avian influenza outbreaks are safe for consumption as long as they are properly handled and cooked.

  • Make sure all parts of the poultry are fully cooked (no “pink” parts) and that eggs are properly cooked (no “runny” yolks).
  • Eggs could be contaminated on both the outside (shell) and inside (white and yolk) and should not be used in foods that will not be cooked to 160º F.
  • Most human H5N1 virus infections have been linked to the home slaughter and handling of diseased or dead birds prior to cooking.

More information on safe food handling can be found at the Food Inspection and Safety Service.



Avian Influenza Homepage

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.