Humans cannot get avian influenza from commercial milk or properly cooked poultry and eggs

Safe handling and cooking practices can help eliminate the risk of avian influenza.

A carton of brown eggs.
Photo: Pixabay.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that avian influenza, commonly known as “bird flu,” has been detected in dairy cow herds in multiple states. With news organizations publishing multiple avian influenza stories, it is natural to feel concerned.

Consumers, however, don’t need to worry about contracting avian influenza from eating properly handled and cooked poultry and eggs. Additionally, similarly to eggs, the CDC states that “it is safe to drink commercial milk, because products are pasteurized before entering the market. Pasteurization kills bacteria and viruses, like influenza viruses, in milk.”

Avian influenza can be found in wild birds, backyard poultry flocks, commercial poultry farms and even cattle farms, but is considered by the CDC to pose a low risk to most people. “Avian influenza” refers to the infection of birds with avian influenza Type A viruses. These viruses occur naturally among wild aquatic birds worldwide and can infect domestic poultry and other bird and animal species.

The CDC asserts that “the proper handling and cooking of poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165 [degrees Fahrenheit] kills bacteria and viruses, including HPAI A(H5) viruses.” Poultry should always be properly handled and cooked. Michigan State University Extension advises consumers to follow these safe food practices when storing, handling and cooking poultry to eliminate the risk of avian influenza:

  • Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds (equal to singing the “Happy Birthday” song all the way through twice) before and after handling shell eggs.
  • Cook eggs until both the yolk and the white are firm. Never eat raw eggs or food with raw egg ingredients such as cookie dough or cake batter. Cook all dishes containing eggs to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Use a food thermometer to ensure that your poultry is thoroughly cooked. Poultry such as chicken or turkey should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooking poultry to 165 degrees kills foodborne pathogens that might be present, such as Salmonella and E. coli.
  • Prevent cross-contamination of foods by keeping all raw poultry and their juices away from other items including other food, food contact surfaces and equipment. After cutting raw poultry, wash your cutting board, knife, and countertops with hot, soapy water. To reduce the number of germs, you can then sanitize cutting boards by using a solution of chlorine bleach in water. For instructions on how to properly create a sanitizing solution, refer to MSU Extension's Safe Sanitizing and Disinfecting fact sheet.
  • Never leave raw poultry at room temperature. Place raw poultry in the bottom of the refrigerator in a bowl or on a plate. If raw poultry is not used within one to two days, freeze it for no longer than 12 months for best quality.
  • Never wash raw poultry. The juices that splash during washing can transfer pathogens onto the surfaces of your kitchen, other foods and utensils.
  • If cooking in an oven, place the poultry in a roasting pan and set the oven temperature no lower than 325 degrees.
  • When barbecuing outdoors, keep poultry refrigerated until it is ready to be cooked. Do not place cooked poultry on the same plate that was used for raw poultry.
  • When marinating raw poultry, always throw away used marinade. Never reuse the marinade from raw poultry on cooked poultry.

Following these food safety practices at home can help keep you and your family safe from foodborne illnesses.

For answers to your food safety questions, call MSU Extension's Food Safety Hotline at 1-877-643-9882. For more information on food safety, visit MSU Extension's Safe Food & Water website.

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