EFSA provides update on avian influenza and food safety

The presence of H5N1 avian influenza in parts of continental Europe has raised public concern with respect to the safety of poultry products and eggs for human consumption. The European Food Safety Authority advises that there is no evidence to suggest to date that avian influenza can be transmitted to humans through consumption of food, notably poultry and eggs. The European Food Safety Authority further confirms that there should be no change to longstanding food safety advice that poultry products be properly cooked in order to protect consumers from possible risks of food poisoning.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) advises that there is no epidemiological information available to date suggesting that avian influenza (AI) - an infectious disease primarily affecting birds - can be transmitted to humans via food. Nevertheless, in view of the developing situation in relation to AI, EFSA’s Scientific Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) is keeping this issue under constant review. EFSA concurs with the advice of health authorities such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) indicating that the most likely route of infection of the H5N1 bird flu virus in humans is through close contact with infected live poultry and not through the consumption of poultry or eggs. The latter possibility cannot however be excluded.

In the European Union, the presence of H5N1 has not been detected in commercial poultry to date. As precautionary advice and in order to avoid known risks of food poisoning from Salmonella and other organisms, EFSA reconfirms longstanding recommendations that poultry meat and eggs be thoroughly cooked. Whilst it is unlikely that H5N1 could be passed onto humans by raw meat or eggs, cooking food properly would inactivate the virus and eliminate this potential risk.

Further information on the safe handling, preparation and cooking of foods can be obtained from national food safety authorities and from the WHO at: http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/consumer/5keys/en/index.html

Further WHO information on AI and food safety issues.

See also the Advice from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) regarding the public health aspects of avian influenza.

Further information resources from EU and International organisations on Avian Influenza:

Notes to editors

EFSA provided an initial statement on AI in January 2004 where it stated that there is no direct evidence to support the food chain as a possible route for transmission of the AI virus (Avian Influenza EFSA to address possible implications for animal and human health).
EFSA published a further statement on 12th September 2005 ( EFSA defines the risks of Avian Influenza for poultry and makes recommendations to prevent its introduction and spread amongst flocks in Europe) informing about its work in progress on the animal health and welfare aspects of AI and reiterating with respect to food safety the WHO recommendations on the safe handling and cooking of food in relation to AI.

On 20th September 2005 EFSA published an Opinion and Report on the animal health and welfare aspects of AI where it provided information on the risks of AI entering and spreading amongst poultry in Europe. EFSA also made recommendations to prevent its introduction and spread amongst flocks in Europe. This report has provided the scientific basis for AI risk management measures already put into practice in Europe with respect to animal health.

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