Is it safe to eat eggs, dairy during the latest bird flu outbreak?

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In the weeks after multiple U.S. agencies issued a joint news release(opens in a new tab) about cases of H5N1 spreading among dairy cattle throughout the country, two U.S. states on the border with Canada now have confirmed cases: Idaho(opens in a new tab) and Michigan(opens in a new tab).

The rapid spread of avian influenza, also known as avian flu or bird flu, among U.S. dairy cattle led to at least one person(opens in a new tab) being diagnosed with the virus, a reminder that it can be transmitted between species.

And it has prompted some states to issue reminders for safe cooking methods and warning against preparing eggs(opens in a new tab) in any style where the yolks are runny.

Is it safe to eat chicken, eggs?

With warnings like this from officials south of the border, Canadians may be wondering whether it’s safe for them to consume eggs, poultry and meat.

Matthew Miller is the director of McMaster University’s Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research. Speaking with CTV News, he was fairly blunt when asked if there’s a risk to the food that Canadians consume.

“No, there’s not,” Miller said. “The agricultural surveillance for bird flu is excellent. It’s always important to follow proper cooking standards, because there’s always other nasty bacteria that can come from beef or chicken, but the (Canadian) standards for processing food protects consumers.”

On March 31, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said in a statement(opens in a new tab) it had not detected bird flu in dairy cattle or other livestock, but that it is monitoring the situation closely.

‘Not a food safety issue’

CTV News reached out to several Canadian farming organizations for comment.

“Canadian dairy producers already adhere to some of the highest biosecurity standards in the world,” Lucie Boileau, director of communications for Dairy Farmers of Canada, said to CTV News. “It should be noted that only milk from healthy animals is authorized for distribution and for human consumption.”

Pam Passerino, the communications team lead for Egg Farmers of Ontario, told CTV News that consumers should be assured the CFIA is definitive that this is “not a food safety issue.”

“Avian influenza is not a threat to food safety, as it only affects birds. Poultry and eggs are safe to eat when proper handling and cooking occur. There is no increased public health risk related to avian influenza,” Passerino said.

Miller says farmers who handle cattle and livestock are already well-acquainted with the rules of dealing with infections, and there are already well-established practices in poultry settings to avoid contamination.

Can humans get avian flu?

However, a large part of that is because chickens are typically housed in enclosures, and it’s much more difficult to protect animals that are usually in free-range environments, like cattle, from migrating birds that may carry the virus, as well as to prevent them from contaminating other cattle.

Beyond the effect the disease could have on food, Miller says what farmers and Canadian officials should be most concerned with is preventing the spread of bird flu to humans.

“The most important thing we can do in the current context is to do everything we can to avoid human transmission,” Miller said. “No amount of energy or expense should be spared in taking every step that we possibly can to avoid those transition events from animals to humans.”

A person in Texas was diagnosed with bird flu last week(opens in a new tab), and state health officials said the person had been in contact with cows presumed to be infected. While experts say it’s highly unlikely that this could spread beyond a few isolated cases, there’s no such thing as being too careful in a post-COVID-19 world.

“Everybody is painfully tired of dealing with infectious disease, and I think that’s led to people wanting to forget about the risks posed, which is understandable,” Miller said. “But one thing that’s really important to emphasize for our leaders and politicians is the importance of prevention.

“Nobody wants to live through another COVID pandemic, so a collective call to the government to invest in robust, preventative strategies is really important. Prevention is infinitely cheaper than responding to a pandemic,” he continued.

As for individual precaution in avoiding the disease, Miller says to avoid dead animals and call the proper authorities to dispose of their bodies, as well as regularly cleaning shoes worn while walking in areas with lots of bird or geese poop.

Source:CTV News