United Nations agencies told consumers on Monday that properly cooked poultry was safe to eat, a move likely to be welcomed by farmers worried that bird flu fears could put turkey and goose off the Christmas menu.
Birds from diseased flocks should not enter the food chain and infected birds should not be used for animal feed, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in guidance to international food safety authorities.
Eggs from sick birds could contain the virus in the white, yolk, and surface of the shell. Eggs from affected areas should not be eaten raw or with a runny yolk, they added.
The H5N1 bird flu virus is endemic in poultry in parts of Asia where it has killed almost 70 people in five countries since 2003. It has spread into eastern Europe and Kuwait and there are fears migratory birds could now carry it to Africa.
Slaughtering and defeathering a diseased bird poses the greatest risk of the virus passing to people, the statement said.
To date there is no evidence that people have become infected with the virus after eating either contaminated poultry meat that has been properly cooked or egg or egg products, the agencies said.
Bird flu remains hard for people to catch, but there are fears it could mutate into a form which passes from person to person, sparking a pandemic in which millions could die.
Worries over the safety of poultry have depressed sales in parts of Europe and the Arab world. Birds such as turkey and goose are traditional staples of the Christmas table, making this a vital time of year for producers.
“In areas where there is no bird flu outbreak in poultry, there is no risk that consumers will be exposed to the virus via the handling or consumption of poultry and poultry products,” the three-page statement said.
In areas with outbreaks in fowl, cooking chicken, ducks, geese, turkeys and guinea-fowl “at or above 70 degrees Celsius (158 Fahrenheit) throughout the product, so that absolutely no meat remains raw and red, is a safe measure to kill the H5N1 virus”.
This ensures there is no active virus remaining if the live bird has been infected and mistakenly entered the food chain.
The U.N. agencies issued a series of specific “good hygienic practices” recommended to reduce exposure to the virus in areas with outbreaks in poultry.
These included not eating raw poultry parts -- including raw blood or raw eggs.
Raw meat and cooked foods should be kept separately --handled with different knives and chopping boards -- to avoid contamination in such areas, according to the statement.
People preparing food in areas with poultry outbreaks should wash hands frequently and disinfect all surfaces and utensils that have been in contact with raw meat.