How Much Do You Really Need to Worry About Bird Flu? - Modern Farmer

How Much Do You Really Need to Worry About Bird Flu?

Answer: not that much, but more than you might think.

Photography via Shutterstock/LADO

This current strain of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI, more commonly known as bird flu) is causing problems. It’s been detected in nearly 97 million birds in commercial or backyard flocks, with another 9,500 wild birds confirmed infected. In birds, it can cause coughing and breathing trouble, swelling and, ultimately, death. 

And despite the name, bird flu doesn’t only impact birds. Since 2022, there have been four cases reported in humans and, more recently, more than 100 herds of dairy cattle in the US alone. The infection has also been found in both the milk and meat of these animals. This month, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency updated its testing eligibility for cattle and said it would now cover some of the testing fees, to ensure any outbreaks are dealt with swiftly. Luckily, in humans, the disease isn’t known to be fatal, but it can lead to high temperatures, breathing trouble, diarrhea, conjunctivitis and potentially more serious complications such as pneumonia or respiratory illness. 

Learn More: What are the problems with Bird Flu?

So, what does this mean for your grocery order? Let’s break it down. 

First, poultry. Is it safe to eat?

Yes. Experts say it is highly unlikely that humans can contract the virus from properly cooked meat or eggs. This means cooking eggs until the yolk and whites are firm and chicken to at least 165°F. And to be safe, keep raw poultry away from any other foods. 

But what’s even more important is that infected meat or eggs are very unlikely to reach grocery store shelves in the first place. According to a USDA predictive model, there is a less than five percent chance that infected eggs or meat might make it to the grocery store—and the model also predicts that if that did happen, 98 percent of infected eggs could be recalled immediately. 

Photography via Shutterstock/nastya_ph

But what about milk?

Recent studies of about 300 commercially available dairy products revealed inactive HPAI in one in five samples. That number seems like a lot on the surface, but there’s one key element: pasteurization. There is increasing evidence that the pasteurization process neutralizes the virus, making pasteurized dairy products safe to consume. 

In the 297 samples tested by the USDA, there was no instance of a live, viable virus in any pasteurized product. 

Learn more: Stay up to date with latest information and the Centre for Disease Control’s response to the Avian Flu outbreak.

Is beef ok?

As with poultry and eggs, it’s highly unlikely that infected beef would make it to store shelves in the first place. However, if it does, experts also agree that properly cooked beef carries very little risk of transmitting the virus to humans. Cooking your meat to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius) will neutralize avian flu, E Coli and any other bacteria. 

Photography via Shutterstock/Oxana A

So, what do I need to know?

The main thing to ensure when shopping for or preparing food is that you’re following safe food guidelines. Consuming raw eggs (looking at you, cookie dough) or unpasteurized dairy products could increase your risk of not just HPAI but salmonella, E Coli, listeria or other food-borne illnesses. Raw ground beef can also be a transmitter of those illnesses, so store beef at 40 degrees F or below, and use it within a few days. It’s also best to cook ground beef to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees F. 

If you are someone who regularly comes in contact with farms, be they poultry or cattle, following a strict biosecurity plan will help reduce the risk of transmitting infections. That means tightening visitor access to your farm, wearing clean boots and clothes and removing or controlling any standing water. In the meantime, officials are looking at several solutions to mitigate these outbreaks, including new vaccines.

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments