Avian Flu: Which Is Hit Worse — the Chicken or the Egg?
The recent outbreak is affecting availability of poultry and driving up egg prices. Does this mean these foods aren’t safe to eat?
If eggs are a morning favorite in your family, you may find yourself scrambling to come up with another breakfast option. A recent outbreak of avian flu in the Midwest is creating egg shortages and driving up prices. That’s right, eggs are no longer cheaper by the dozen — or in any amount.
The strain of bird flu that’s spoiling egg availability is called H5N2. It was first discovered in a backyard flock in Washington state earlier this year. Since then it has spread to more than 20 states and affected more than 39 million birds, making it the largest avian flu outbreak on record in the United States. Currently, Iowa poultry farmers are being hit the hardest.
Related: How to Tell If an Egg Is Bad
Because there’s no vaccine for H5N2, infected birds and even those that might be infected must be killed to stop virus. This means that poultry prices are taking flight as well.
Even turkey farmers are being affected by the avian flu outbreak. Hormel Foods Corp., one of the largest U.S. meat processors, expects the epidemic to hurt sales as 55 of its farms have been hit by the virus, a top executive at the company told the Wall Street Journal.
“The price of eggs and poultry will go up in the short term, but availability will remain due to supply from other parts of the country,” says Scott Harris, PhD. Harris, director of EHS Advisory Services for UL’s Workplace Health and Safety Division, is currently on location in Iowa, assisting the U.S. Department of Agriculture and local farmers in limiting the impact of the outbreak.
The United States is already planning to import eggs from Europe, a solution the poultry industry turned to during the last outbreak, according to the Associated Press.
But will poultry be safe to eat?
Yes. “That’s because the USDA has a thorough surveillance system in place to ensure that all poultry on store shelves is uncontaminated and safe for human consumption,” says Harris. While chickens and turkeys are highly vulnerable to this strain of avian flu, there’s a very low risk for transmission to humans and dogs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Even so, it’s important, as always, to follow basic safe-handling practices when prepping and cooking poultry.
Defrost correctly. Do not thaw frozen poultry in hot water. Plan ahead and allow it to defrost in the fridge. Follow these USDA rules on how to defrost meat safely in the fridge, microwave or cold water.
Related: How to Thaw Meat
Keep it clean. Harris suggests practicing good hygiene when cooking and handling poultry or any other meat in the kitchen. Make sure your counters are clean before and after cooking. And of course, don’t forget to wash your hands after handling chicken.
Don’t rinse it! According to the USDA, rinsing just spreads bacteria. You can rely on the high cooking temperatures to kill off bacteria.
Get it hot enough. The USDA recommends cooking chicken and turkey to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F in order for it to be free of bacteria. Using a meat thermometer is the only way to make sure poultry is cooked enough.
Stay informed. Keep an eye out for news about the outbreak or any changes in policy. The USDA will keep consumers informed about any changes to the quality of eggs, poultry or turkey and whether it’s safe to eat.