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Bird flu poses no food safety risk: health expert

March 3, 2006 - Reuters, LONDON - Bird flu in poultry does not pose any food safety risk because it is unlikely a sick chicken would be slaughtered for consumption and thoroughly cooking meat and eggs would kill the virus, a health expert said on Friday.

Dr Judith Hilton, the head of microbiological safety at Britain's Food Standards Agency, said salmonella poses more of a risk to consumers than bird flu.

It isn't a food safety risk, Hilton told a news briefing. We advise thorough cooking of poultry meat and eggs. If you cook your poultry and your eggs, you would get rid of any viruses present.

The H5N1 bird flu virus that has spread from Asia to countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa has infected 174 people and killed 94 since the end of 2003.

All of those infected with the virus were in close contact with diseased birds. So far H5N1 has not shown it can spread easily from person to person but scientists fear it could mutate into a form that could become highly infectious in humans.

When we look at people who have caught avian flu in the Far East and more recently in Turkey and the Middle East, there has been very close contact between those people and live sick birds or occasionally recently dead birds. That goes for virtually all of the cases that have been described, said Hilton.

RESPIRATORY SYSTEM

She added that people generally get flu through the respiratory system, not from what they eat.

In order for viruses to infect people and cause disease, they need to attach to cell receptors in the body. Receptors for influenza viruses are
normally in the respiratory track.

There are also a number of controls in Britain and other countries that would prevent any outbreaks in flocks from spreading and sick birds being slaughtered for consumption.

H5N1 avian influenza has killed birds in more than 30 countries across Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Hilton added that the possibility of infected chickens or eggs reaching consumers in Britain was very remote because of the various controls in place.

In the very unlikely event that it did, washing hands and utensils would deal with any risk from handling raw meat or cooking with eggs.

We advise the thorough cooking of poultry meat and the cooking of eggs in order to prevent you getting other food poisoning organisms, particularly salmonella, said Hilton.

If you cook your poultry and your eggs as you would do to reduce the risk of salmonella, then you would have long ago gotten rid of any virus that might be present.

Germany's Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) issued a statement aimed at reassuring consumers that it was safe to eat the meat or eggs of infected birds provided it is cooked thoroughly enough.

Poultry meat and poultry meat products heated at their core to 70 degrees centigrade are as safe as hard-boiled eggs from the perspective of passing on an infection, the BfR said.

Earlier, a spokesman for Germany's poultry producers association ZDG said German demand for poultry had dropped by around 20 percent since the onset of bird flu in Europe, resulting in losses of some 143 million euros for the industry.

Copyright 2006, Reuters News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Copyright 2006, ABC News Internet Ventures



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