EFSA is following the new influenza A virus outbreak (initially referred to as ‘swine flu’) first reported in humans in Mexico and in the USA and notified to the World Health Organization. In line with its mission, EFSA is in particular monitoring the situation with respect to animal health and food safety.
The virus involved in the current human influenza outbreak and also found in a pig herd in Canada, is a new strain of the H1N1 influenza virus. It contains genes from pig, avian and human influenza viruses in a combination that has never been observed before. This new virus is a genetic reassortment of viruses which have been circulating in pigs in Europe, Asia and America since 1998.
Type A influenza viruses may infect humans (human influenza) and a large variety of animals including pigs (swine influenza) and birds and poultry (avian influenza). Influenza viruses commonly affect the respiratory tract and the usual way of transmission is through direct contact or close proximity with affected individuals or animals.
EFSA is not aware of any scientific evidence to suggest that influenza viruses can be transmitted to humans through the consumption of meat such as pork and pork products.
EFSA’s role is to provide European risk managers with objective scientific advice on possible animal health and welfare, zoonotic and food safety aspects. EFSA is in close contact with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the European Commission and is ready to provide any further scientific advice which may be required.
EFSA is also contributing its expertise in the development of experimental studies in pigs, to investigate issues including whether pigs are susceptible to infection with the new H1N1 virus and the potential for the virus to spread among pigs. These studies are currently carried out by the Community Reference Laboratory in collaboration with other EU laboratories with funding from the European Commission.
On 9 June 2009 EFSA took part in a brainstorming meeting of scientists, risk assessors and risk managers on influenza A(H1N1) organised by the Commission with the support of ECDC and EFSA. It focused on the potential risks posed by the virus in terms of possible transmission between humans and animals. Scientists from the public health, animal health and food safety fields from the EU, USA, Canada and Russia also attended. See supporting documents including EFSA presentations and workshop conclusions.
Can this new influenza A (H1N1) virus be transmitted to humans by eating pork and pork products?
The virus involved in the current influenza outbreak is a new strain of the H1N1 influenza virus. The usual way of transmission of influenza viruses is through direct contact or close proximity with affected individuals or animals. EFSA is not aware of any scientific evidence to suggest that influenza viruses can be transmitted to humans through the consumption of meat such as pork and pork products.
Even if pigs are exposed to this new virus and it were to be found in meat, cooking pork thoroughly (to an internal temperature of 70°C) would kill the virus as it does other viruses and bacteria. With respect to handling and preparation of meat and meat products, there are no specific precautions that need to be taken other than the usual guidance of practicing good food hygiene.
What about people who eat raw pork meat?
EFSA is not aware of any scientific evidence of risk to pork consumers from influenza viruses regardless of the type of pork consumed. However, whilst some consumers may enjoy eating raw meat, longstanding food safety advice is to avoid eating raw meat in order to prevent possible risk of food-borne illness. Cooking meat properly kills bacteria or viruses which may be found in foods. It is always recommended to follow proper food hygiene practices in kitchens and to wash hands and all surfaces and equipment with soap after handling raw meat.
What is swine influenza?
Swine influenza is a common viral infection in pigs caused by type A influenza virus. The mortality level is low and recovery usually occurs within 7-10 days. Swine influenza may occasionally infect humans through contact or close proximity with pigs but does not usually cause severe illness. Human-to-human transmission is usually not observed, unlike the new influenza A (H1N1) virus.
Information sources for the human influenza outbreak:
- European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control - FAQ
- European Commission, Directorate-General for Health and Consumers
- Statement of the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health of May 5 2009
- World Health Organization
- WHO "Prevention of Foodborne Disease: The Five Keys to Safer Food"
- Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States
- Canadian Food Inspection Agency press release of 2 May 2009 regarding the finding of H1N1 flu virus in a swine herd in Alberta
Information sources for swine influenza: