Although it’s been months since I first heard the words “avian influenza,” I still had lingering questions about the outbreak: How does this affect me? Why has the price of eggs skyrocketed? Most importantly, were there any health issues I should be concerned with?
Let’s face it, chicken is prepared in most homes -- including my own -- at least twice a week. It’s versatile, healthy and economical. As I polled my friends and family, some of them had the same lingering questions. Here are a few points I found important.
The first is that avian influenza cannot make humans sick. There have been no cases of human infection by birds because the H5N2 strain of the virus is not zoonotic, meaning it cannot pass between humans and animals. (Zoonotic avian influenza, also referred to as “bird flu,” can be transmitted from birds to humans.)
Strictly an animal-health issue -- not a food safety or public health issue -- avian flu still impacts consumers, especially those who enjoy cooking with and eating eggs. The price of eggs has increased this year because the U.S. egg-layer industry has lost 10 percent of its average inventory to the disease.
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Second, commercially produced poultry is tested for avian flu in the U.S. prior to being processed, as well as after. This ensures infected birds and their by-products (eggs) do not enter the food supply and are safe to eat.
Translation, the name alone can make you shudder and the price of eggs poses more harm to consumers than the disease.
Third, avian influenza isn’t in Georgia. Avian flu has affected 21 states and 48 million birds to date since the discovery of the current outbreak on North American shores in December 2014. Commercial and backyard poultry in Georgia have gone untouched so far, but the state’s agriculture industry is preparing for the potential arrival of the pathogen as birds migrate south this fall. Before now, the disease has been concentrated in the Pacific Northwest and upper Midwest.
Fourth, and most surprising to me, avian influenza could result in consumers paying more for their holiday turkeys. The U.S. turkey industry has lost 7.45 percent of its average inventory. As a result, consumers can anticipate higher prices for this year’s Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys.
I have to admit I had no idea this was a possibility.
Remember, it is always best to follow proper food safety guidelines such as ensuring poultry and egg products are stored and cooked at appropriate temperatures.
Contact county Extension agent Keishon J. Thomas by calling 478-751-6338 or emailling firstname.lastname@example.org.