July 23, 2024

Focus on Agriculture: Should I be worried about bird flu?

We’ve all been hit with sticker shock lately when shopping at the grocery store. Instead of grumbling over our favorite topic — the weather — everyone is now talking about price increases for eggs, a household staple.

Retail egg prices reached record highs last winter, due in part to a nationwide bird flu outbreak that resulted in a temporary egg shortage.

Farmers struggled with bird flu outbreaks starting in spring 2022 and again in early winter 2022. Flocks in both cage-free and conventionally raised egg farms have tested positive for bird flu.

Unfortunately, bird flu remains a serious threat to poultry flocks. Animal health experts say migratory wild birds are likely to spread the virus this spring.

While farmers are working hard to protect their flocks, it’s important to remember that the food you buy remains safe.

Are the eggs and poultry I buy safe from bird flu?

You won’t get sick from bird flu after eating or handling eggs or poultry products. There have been no cases of bird flu from consuming eggs and poultry, says Dr. Patricia Winokur, an infectious disease expert and executive dean of the University of Iowa Carver School of Medicine.

As always, you should keep food safety top of mind when cooking at home. It is safe to eat properly handled and cooked eggs and poultry, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Cooking poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, as measured by a food thermometer, kills bacteria and viruses, including bird flu viruses, the USDA says.

As an added safety measure, the USDA also inspects all egg products to ensure quality and safety. Officially inspected egg products will feature a USDA inspection mark.

Should I be worried about bird flu?

Bird flu viruses usually don’t infect people, say public health experts. The few known human cases of bird flu are rare incidents when people — primarily in developing Southeast Asia countries — are in extremely close contact, living with or caring for, infected birds, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The World Health Organization says animal flu viruses are distinct from human seasonal flu viruses and don’t easily transmit between humans. The WHO classifies the current strain of bird flu, known scientifically as H5N1, as “low risk” to humans.

Winokur says public health officials have kept a close watch on the H5N1 bird flu virus since it emerged globally about 15 years ago.

Scientists have already developed vaccines for the bird flu virus, and there are stockpiles of vaccines at the ready, if needed, Winokur says.

“This is something that we’ve been planning for. We have the luxury of having time to plan a little bit more aggressively for this,” Winokur says.

What are egg and poultry farms doing to prevent bird flu?

Farmers work closely with veterinarians to develop avian flu prevention plans and protect overall poultry health and well-being.

In addition, farmers raise poultry indoors to help keep birds separated from wildlife, which could spread flu viruses.

Poultry farmers employ strict biosecurity measures, including limiting visitors, requiring employees to shower in and shower out of barns, disinfecting barns and equipment, and washing and heat-treating livestock trailers to kill any viruses.

Farmers remain committed to continuous improvement to ensure the safety, nutrition and sustainability of the foods they grow for all of us.

To learn more about how farmers work to ensure meat quality, food safety and animal well-being, visit the “Real Farmers. Real Food. Real Meat” website.

Teresa Bjork is consumer content manager at Iowa Farm Bureau. This article was originally published in Iowa Farm Bureau’s Farm Fresh Blog.