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science, health & technology
FAO/WHO say good hygiene
essential for safe preparation of poultry
No bird flu risk for consumers from properly cooked poultry and eggs
by the World Health Organization
Chicken and other poultry are safe to eat if cooked properly,
according to a joint statement by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization
(FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) issued to national food
safety authorities. However, no birds from flocks with disease should
enter the food chain.
The two organizations made the statement to clarify food safety issues in
relation to the current avian influenza crisis. The statement has been
issued through the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN)
and is available in six languages at:
In areas where there is no avian influenza outbreak in poultry, there is
no risk that consumers will be exposed to the virus via the handling or
consumption of poultry or poultry products.
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 FAO and WHO said. This ensures that there
is no active virus remaining if the live bird has been infected and has
mistakenly entered the food chain. To date, there is no epidemiological
evidence that people have become infected after eating contaminated
poultry meat that has been properly cooked.
From the information currently available, a large number of confirmed
human cases of avian influenza acquired their infection during the home
slaughtering and subsequent handling of diseased or dead birds prior to
cooking. FAO and WHO emphasize that in the process of killing and
preparing a live bird for food, slaughtering poses the greatest risk of
passing the virus from infected or diseased birds to humans.
Most strains of avian influenza virus are mainly found in the respiratory
and gastrointestinal tracts of infected birds, and not in meat. However,
highly pathogenic viruses, such as the H5N1 strain, spread to virtually
all parts of an infected bird, including meat. Proper cooking at
temperatures at or above 70°C in all parts of the product will inactivate
When a diseased bird is slaughtered, defeathered and eviscerated, virus
from the bird can transfer to humans through direct contact. Infected
poultry excrete virus in their secretions and feces. Exposure might also
occur when the virus is inhaled through dust and possibly through contact
with surfaces contaminated with the virus.
In areas where marketing of live birds is common, the practices of home
slaughtering, defeathering, and eviscerating increase the exposure to
potentially contaminated parts of a chicken. These practices therefore
result in a significant risk of infection in areas with outbreaks in
It is not always possible to differentiate infected and non-infected birds
in outbreak areas. Some avian species, such as domestic ducks, may harbor
the virus without displaying symptoms. Therefore, people need to be fully
informed about preventive measures, including the use of protective
equipment. The practice of slaughtering and eating infected birds, whether
diseased or already dead, must be stopped, FAO and WHO warn. These birds
should also not be used for animal feed.
Even in areas or countries where outbreaks are currently occurring, the
likelihood of infected poultry entering an industrialized slaughtering and
processing chain, and eventually being marketed and handled by a consumer
or a restaurant worker, is considered to be very low, the FAO and WHO
said. Good hygienic practices during preparation and cooking poultry at
temperatures of 70°C or above will further contribute to the safety of
cooked poultry meat.
Proper vaccination of domestic poultry is considered to be a useful tool
as part of an overall integrated strategy for the control of Highly
Pathogenic Avian Influenza. It must be implemented in accordance with
existing standards and procedures for vaccination. With appropriate
monitoring programs in place, vaccinated poultry can enter the food chain
without particular risk for the consumer.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza 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
Proper cooking inactivates the virus present inside the eggs.
Pasteurization used by industry for liquid egg products is also effective
in inactivating the virus.
Eggs from areas with outbreaks in poultry should not be consumed raw or
partially cooked (i.e., with runny yolk), the FAO and WHO advise. To date,
there is no epidemiological evidence to suggest that people have been
infected with avian influenza by consumption of eggs or egg products.
Recommended good hygienic practices to reduce exposure to the virus in
areas with outbreaks in poultry:
1. No birds from flocks with disease should enter the food chain.
2. Do not eat
raw poultry parts, including raw blood, or raw eggs in or from areas with
outbreaks in poultry.
3. Separate raw meat from cooked or ready-to-eat foods to avoid
contamination. Do not use the same chopping board or the same knife. Do
not handle both raw and cooked foods without washing your hands in between
and do not place cooked meat back on the same plate or surface it was on
prior to cooking. Do not use raw or soft-boiled eggs in food preparations
that will not be heat treated or cooked.
4. Keep clean and wash your hands. After handling frozen or thawed raw
poultry or eggs, wash your hands thoroughly with soap. Wash and disinfect
all surfaces and utensils that have been in contact with the raw meat.
Cook thoroughly: Thorough cooking of poultry meat will inactivate the
virus. Either ensure that the poultry meat reaches 70°C at the centre of
the product ("piping" hot) or that the meat is not pink in any part. Egg
yolks should not be runny or liquid.