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Bird flu no concern with safely prepared chicken

By Ruth Taber / Special to the Times
El Paso Times, El Paso, Texas
June 28, 2006

At this year's Food Media Seminar in April, sponsored by the National Chicken Council, experts discussed the relationship of avian influenza to chicken consumption in the United States. Unless you're sleeping with your chickens, consuming raw blood or organ meat from an infected bird, or performing mouth-to-mouth-resuscitation with a chicken (all not likely in this country), chances are pretty remote for our residents to contract the disease.

Dr. Sherrill Davison, VMD, poultry laboratory director at the University of Pennsylvania, defined avian influenza as a disease of birds that occurs around the world from time to time and is spread mainly by wild birds. Geese and ducks can carry the virus without having symptoms, and if chickens and turkeys mingle with wild geese and ducks, they can get the virus and develop the disease.

Dr. Michael Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia, said that the avian flu does not easily pass from birds to humans and almost not at all from human to human; "like other viral diseases, it is not typically transmitted through food."

There are multiple "firewalls" in place to protect consumers and poultry farmers. This year biologists are taking 25,000 samples from wild birds in Alaska, Hawaii, other Pacific Islands and along the West Coast, and 75,000 more samples of birds across the country. If a migrating wild bird has the virus, they'll detect it early. Monitoring and surveillance programs are conducted primarily by state governments. The National Chicken Council members (chicken producers) test every flock before sending it to market; if the disease was present, the entire flock would be destroyed on the farm.

Chickens in this country are raised almost entirely in enclosed houses, preventing them from mingling with migratory birds. Many growers of free range poultry are opting for less freedom and enclosing their birds. Vehicles are sanitized before driving onto chicken farms – and no visitors, who might accidentally track a virus on their shoes, are allowed on farms.

As consumers, we should follow the same safety rules for avoiding avian flu as we do to avoid salmonella infections: cook poultry to a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Dark meat should be cooked longer. These temperatures are enough to kill harmful bacteria as well as avian flu virus.

Ruth Taber is a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals; she may be reached at: .

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