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How consumers can keep healthy even if chickens are sick

07/2006, 03.03.2006

BfR gives hygiene tips for the home and kitchen

In several German federal states bird flu has been detected in wild poultry. On Rügen, where most of the animals perished, the virus type H5N1 which is also dangerous for man has been discovered for the first time in a cat. So far, domestic poultry has not been affected by the infection. The federal government and federal states have taken comprehensive steps to ensure that this situation does not change. Nonetheless, it cannot be completely ruled out that the virus will find its way sooner or later into German poultry flocks as has now happened in France. What would this mean for consumers and what should they do to ensure that they remain healthy even if "chickens" are sick? BfR has taken up the questions of worried consumers, examined possible risks and put together practical hygiene tips for the home and kitchen. The most important message: even where bird flu has been around for years, there have been no reports up to now of an infection which has crossed from food to man. Because the virus is not very stable, every consumer can actively contribute to ensuring that this situation does not change.

Bird flu is a highly infectious disease which is particularly dangerous for chickens and turkeys. The disease moves fast and most animals perish. The probability that poultry meat or eggs from infected flocks reach the market before the infection has been identified is, therefore, extremely low. In the case of ducks and geese the disease takes a slower course. Hence, in their case it cannot be completely ruled out that products from infected animals could reach the market prior to the outbreak of the disease. If German poultry flocks were to become infected, consumers should “play it safe” and follow the recommendations that BfR is already issuing today for the eventuality that domestic poultry becomes affected.

These recommendations are based on the fact that the bird flu virus is not very stable. This applies both to washing hands with soap and water as well as to high temperatures. Poultry meat and poultry meat products, which have been heated at the core to 70 °C are, therefore, as safe as hard boiled eggs when it comes to preventing the transmission of the disease. Furthermore, the same hygiene rules apply here by means of which Salmonella or Campylobacter infections can be effectively avoided.

In principle, bird flu can also cross over to human beings. However, there must be intensive contact between man and animals. The virus can, for instance, be inhaled from dust particles (from the feathers of infected animals or dried faeces) or from droplets. Direct contact with sick or perished animals should, therefore, always be avoided. A further infection route is contact with mucous membranes. Anyone who comes into contact with infected animals or their excretions, should, therefore, thoroughly wash his hands with water and washing-up liquid.

Up to now, there have been no reports of transmission of the virus from man to man. For this to happen, the virus would have to mutate in terms of its harmfulness for human beings. The extensive protection measures on the federal and regional levels are designed to prevent this happening.

This is what consumers can do:

  • Avoid any contact with infected and perished poultry. This applies in particular to children.
  • After coming into contact with poultry or their excretions, thoroughly wash hands with water and washing-up liquid.
  • In the event of contact with infected animals, wash dirty clothing in a washing machine at 95 °C.
  • Keep pets away from infected and perished animals and their excretions.
  • After touching pets, which may have come into contact with infected or perished animals or their excretions, thoroughly wash hands with water and washing-up liquid.
  • Do not eat raw poultry meat, raw poultry meat products or uncooked eggs.
  • Heat poultry meat and poultry meat product to a core temperature of 70 °C until the meat is no longer red or pink in colour and no red meat juices are released anymore.
  • Boil eggs until both the white and yolk are no longer runny.
  • After preparing fresh poultry meat or poultry meat products, wash hands, any kitchen utensils used and chopping boards thoroughly with water and washing-up liquid.
  • Avoid any cross-contamination with other foods through separate preparation and storage.
  • Immediately dispose of packaging materials and defrosted water and then clean the sink with water and washing-up liquid.

If you follow these tips, you can avoid infection with harmful germs.

Further information on this subject can be accessed on our homepage under “FAQs”.


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