Human Swine Influenza (Influenza A/H1N1) and Food Safety
Human swine influenza is caused by the influenza A/H1N1 virus. In the recent international human swine flu outbreak, human-to-human transmission has occurred.
There are concerns about the possibility of this virus infecting pigs and the safety of pork and pork products. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Health Organization (WHO) and World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) issued a joint statement on 7 May 2009 restating their position on the safety of pork and human swine influenza:
- Influenza viruses are not known to be transmissible to people through eating processed pork or other food products derived from pigs.
- Cooking meat to a core temperature of 70°C or above will readily inactivate any viruses potentially present in raw meat products.
- Pork and pork products, handled in accordance with good hygienic practices recommended by the WHO, Codex Alimentarius Commission and the OIE, will not be a source of infection.
To ensure food safety, both the public and the trade should adopt the “5 Keys to Food Safety” advice:
Advice to public
When buying and handling pork:
- Purchase pork from licensed “Fresh Provision Shop”.
- Don’t buy pork from questionable source.
- Avoid touching raw pork directly when buying pork in the market.
- Observe good hygienic practices when handling raw pork. Upon touching raw pork, don’t touch your face and other body parts. Thereafter, immediately wash hands thoroughly with warm soapy water. Thoroughly cleanse surfaces, utensils and equipment that have been in contact with raw pork using hot water and detergent.
- If raw pork is not used for immediate cooking, store it in a refrigerator. Raw food, including raw pork should be stored in containers with lid and put below cooked and ready-to-eat food.
- Pork should be cooked thoroughly before consumption with central part of the pork reaching at least 75°C.
- Check the temperature of the refrigerator with a thermometer and ensure the fridge is kept at or below 4°C and freezer at or below -18°C.
When eating out:
- Patronise reliable and hygienic shops.
- Wash hands thoroughly with warm soapy water before eating and after going to toilets.
- Keep hands clean. Alcohol-based handrub is also effective when hands are not visibly soiled.
- Avoid touching mouth, nose and eyes.
- Cover nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing and do not spit.
- In some food premises like those providing buffets, check whether the raw food, including raw pork is separately placed from ready-to-eat or cooked dish.
- If you suspect that the pork is not thoroughly cooked, ask the staff of the food premises to cook it again.
- If you find that hot dishes, including pork dish are not served hot, ask the staff of the food premises to reheat the food.
Advice to trade
The food trade is advised to adopt same measures as the public in buying and handling pork. They should remind staff to observe good personal hygiene. If staff develop respiratory symptoms or fever, they should cease work immediately and see a doctor right away. Moreover, they could adopt the following additional measures to ensure food safety and environmental hygiene.
- All food, beverage and tableware should be stored and covered properly.
- Tableware and towels provided to customers should be thoroughly washed before re-used. Provide customers with additional chopsticks or spoons for the common serving of food.
- Provide liquid soap, disposable towels or a hand-dryer in toilets.
- Step up cleansing and disinfection of the walls, floors, utensils, tables, chairs and equipment.
- Step up cleansing, inspection and maintenance for all ventilating systems in the premises, including air outlets, air filters, fresh air inlets and ventilating ducts.
- Keep the ventilating systems of the premises in operation during business hours.
Symptoms of human swine influenza
The symptoms of human swine influenza include fever, lethargy, loss of appetite and coughing, which are similar to those of human seasonal influenza. Some people infected with human swine flu may also have a runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.
If you develop respiratory symptoms such as sneezing, coughing or fever, wear a mask and see a doctor right away.
Mode of transmission of human swine influenza
Human-to-human transmission of human swine influenza is thought to occur in the same way as seasonal influenza. It is spread mainly through coughing or sneezing. People may also become infected by touching objects soiled with influenza viruses and then touching their nose or mouth.
Centre for Food Safety
Food and Environmental Hygiene Department
11 May 2009