Bird flu: your questions answered
Monday 2 June 2008
On the basis of current scientific evidence, our advice is that avian flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers. For people, the risk of catching the disease comes from being in close contact with live poultry that have the disease, and not through eating cooked poultry or eggs.
Our current advice is based upon the opinions of scientific experts around the world including advisers to the WHO, EFSA and the ACMSF. The FSA has monitored developments since H5N1 avian flu emerged in the Far East. Infection in humans remains rare and most human cases have had close contact with infected birds. We continue to monitor the most up-to-date information and evidence, as it becomes available. The FSA will keep an open mind as to any information that may lead to our advice being updated. However, current scientific opinion agrees that avian flu is not a food safety risk.
When an outbreak of avian flu occurs in wild birds or a poultry flock, the authorities are required to put in place controls that aim to prevent the spread of the disease. These controls will also mean it is unlikely that infected poultry or eggs will enter the food chain. The Agency has taken account of this low risk of infected products entering the food chain as it developed its advice for consumers, and this advice remains applicable whether or not avian influenza is present in the UK.
Controls are in place to prevent imports of live birds, poultry meat and eggs from non-EU countries that are affected by avian flu. When an outbreak of avian flu occurs in wild birds or a poultry flock in an EU Member State, trade within the European Community may continue, but trade of poultry and poultry products from the affected parts of any Member State will be restricted to protect animal health. These controls will also mean it is very unlikely that infected poultry or eggs will enter the food chain in any affected non-EU country or EU Member State. The Agency has taken account of this low risk of infected products entering the food chain as it developed its advice for consumers, and current FSA advice that avian flu does not pose a food safety risk to the UK consumer still applies.
Cooking food thoroughly will kill bacteria and viruses. Our advice is that poultry and eggs should always be cooked properly to avoid food poisoning. Current FSA advice on preparing, cooking and eating poultry meat and eggs still applies, whether or not avian influenza is present in the UK.
People should follow the handling and cooking instructions for cooking poultry. If you're cooking a whole chicken or other bird, pierce the thickest part of the leg (between drumstick and thigh) with a clean knife or skewer until the juices run clear. The juices shouldn't have any pink or red in them and there should be no pink meat.
People should not eat raw eggs or use raw eggs in dishes that will not be cooked. Eggs should be cooked until the whites are solid. People at particular risk of salmonella should continue to cook eggs until the yolks are solid.
The World Health Organisation advises the cooking of eggs until both yolks and whites are solid. The FSA have discussed this with WHO and they confirm that this advice is precautionary. Their advice on cooking eggs is relevant for all bacteria and viruses that may be present - for all parts of the world.
In the UK, independent expert advice has confirmed that it is not necessary to cook eggs until the yolks are hard to protect against exposure to the avian flu virus.
The vaccines used to vaccinate birds against avian flu do not pose any health concerns. This is provided a licensed vaccine with marketing authorisation is used, and the correct interval between vaccination and slaughter or date eggs are laid is observed.
There is no requirement for meat or eggs from vaccinated animals or birds to be labelled to indicate that they have been vaccinated.