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05.12.2005 Health

FAO: No bird flu risk for consumers of properly cooked poultry and eggs

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Accra, Dec. 5, GNA - 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.

They, however, said no birds from flocks with disease should enter the food chain, according to a statement received in Accra from the FAO. It said FAO/WHO made the statement to clarify food safety issues in relation to the current bird flu crisis. The statement has been issued through the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN). It said in areas where there was no bird flu outbreak in poultry, there was no risk that consumers would be exposed to the virus via the handling or consumption of poultry and poultry products.

"Cooking of poultry (e.g. chicken, ducks, geese, turkeys and guinea-fowl) at or above 70=B0Celsius 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," FAO/WHO said. "This ensures that there is no active virus remaining if the live bird had been infected and had 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."

The statement said from information currently available, a large number of confirmed human cases 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 temperature at or above 70=B0C in all parts of the product will inactivate the virus."

The statement said when a diseased bird was slaughtered, de-feathered and eviscerated; virus from that bird could transfer to humans through direct contact.

"Infected poultry excrete virus in their secretions and faeces. Exposure might also occur when the virus is inhaled through dust and possibly through contact with surfaces contaminated with the virus." The statement said highly pathogenic avian influenza virus could be found inside and on the surface of eggs laid by infected birds. It said although sick birds would 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 shell.

"Proper cooking inactivates the virus present inside the eggs. Pasteurisation used by industry for liquid egg products is also effective in inactivating the virus."

It advised that eggs from areas with outbreaks in poultry should not be consumed raw or partially cooked (i.e., with runny yolk). 05 Dec. 05