1. There were concerns that avian influenza could spread to humans through the handling and consumption of contaminated chilled poultry.
  2. Since December 2003, WHO has recorded 184 people being infected by the H5N1 avian influenza virus, of whom 103 have died (as of 21 March 2006). Direct contact with infected poultry, or surfaces and objects contaminated by their faeces, is presently considered the main route of human infections. Hence, the main health risk currently is to people who are in close contact with infected poultry, such as families with backyard flocks and poultry workers in wet markets or live animal markets.
  3. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently also reconfirmed the view that although the H5N1 virus is highly infectious among poultry, it is not easily transmissible to humans.

Food Safety and Public Health Significance

  1. The highly pathogenic avian influenza virus can be found in many parts of an infected bird. The virus does not multiply in poultry carcasses but can survive several days at ambient temperature and up to 23 days if refrigerated. Freezing and refrigeration is not effective in reducing the concentration or virulence of the virus on contaminated meat. However, normal cooking (temperatures at or above 70oC) will inactivate the virus.
  2. On the basis of current scientific evidence available, WHO holds the view that to date there is no epidemiological information to suggest that the disease can be transmitted through properly cooked food (even if contaminated with the virus prior to cooking).
  3. As a precautionary advice and at the same time avoid known risks of food poisoning from pathogens such as Salmonella, WHO, as well as other health authorities such as the European Food Safety Authority, reiterates that, whilst it is unlikely that H5N1 could be passed onto humans by raw poultry, handling raw poultry hygienically and cooking raw poultry thoroughly would eliminate this potential risk.

Advice to the Trade

As a general precautionary measure, the trade and the public are advised to observe good personal, food and environmental hygiene at all times. Among which the following good hygienic practices are of particular importance in avoiding the spread of the virus through food. The trade is advised to refer to Food Hygiene Code for details.

  1. Purchase poultry from a reputable and reliable source. It should be noted that imported poultry should be accompanied by an official certificate issued by a competent authority certifying that the poultry are fit for human consumption.
  2. When receiving, food businesses should inspect poultry to ensure that during transportation
    1. poultry are protected from contamination.
    2. poultry are kept at correct temperatures (i.e. chilled poultry should be at 4oC or below).
  3. Store and display poultry at correct temperatures (i.e. chilled poultry should be at 4oC or below).
  4. Minimise cross-contamination of food contact surfaces, refrigerators and display cabinets through hygienic handling of raw poultry.
  5. Refrigerators, display cabinets, all surfaces in contact with raw poultry during handling should be kept clean and be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected at intervals of sufficient frequency.
  6. Ready-to-eat foods and chilled poultry should be stored or displayed separately in order to prevent cross-contamination.
  7. After handling poultry products, food handlers should wash hands thoroughly.
  8. Poultry and poultry products should be cooked thoroughly before serving.

Advice to the Public

  1. Cook poultry meat thoroughly.
  2. Avoid contaminating cooked or ready-to-eat foods with raw poultry meat (e.g. do not handle both raw and cooked poultry without washing your hands in between).
  3. After handling poultry products, wash hands and food-contact surfaces thoroughly.

Other Sites related to Avian Influenza Virus

  1. Prevention of Avian Influenza – Tips for Food Safety
  2. Risk in Brief Issue No. 25 – Avian Influenza Viruses and Food Safety

Risk Assessment Section
March 2006