Food, Health

Eating Runny Eggs May Increase Your Risk For Bird Flu

Serious Eats

If you want to enjoy runny yolks, opt for pasteurized eggs to significantly lower the risk of foodborne illness. Concerns have escalated with H5N1 being found in major egg producers, dairy herds, and even a rare human case.

Points to Remember:

  • Bird flu is spreading among major egg production facilities in the country, leading to concerns about egg safety.
  • The FDA advises that eggs should always be cooked until both the yolk and white are firm.
  • Experts indicate that the risk of bird flu infection in humans is very low.

This week, U.S. public health concerns over bird flu intensified as the second human case of bird flu was confirmed. This development comes amid outbreaks at two major commercial egg producers and several dairy farms.

With the spread of avian influenza, warnings about the consumption of runny eggs and certain dairy products are also increasing.

A fact sheet that came from the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services about avian influenza and safe cooking practices has now been made available on social media, giving advice to the public to “make sure eggs are fully cooked so that the yolks are not runny or liquid.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises cooking eggs until the yolks are firm to reduce the risk of illness. When preparing dishes that require raw or undercooked eggs, using pasteurized eggs is recommended, as pasteurization can deactivate viruses and bacteria.

Contrary to concerns, the U.S. Department of Agriculture asserts that avian influenza cannot be contracted from consuming eggs or poultry. This clarification aims to alleviate fears regarding food safety amid the ongoing spread of avian influenza.

“The risk of getting avian flu from eggs is relatively low, and from cooked eggs, it’s probably extremely low,” Stephen Rich, PhD, a professor in the department of microbiology at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, said. He specializes in the study of zoonotic diseases, or those sicknesses that come from animal populations but sometimes infect the humans.

He indicates that the likelihood of contracting gastrointestinal illness from salmonella bacteria in undercooked eggs is likely higher.

Regarding concerns about potential transmission through chicken meat, studies have demonstrated that thorough cooking effectively deactivates any viruses that might be present in contaminated poultry meat. This underscores the importance of proper cooking practices to ensure food safety amid such concerns.

Cows Have been Infected with Bird Flu Too

After the highly pathogenic avian influenza (specifically the H5N1 strain) was found in several dairy herds in Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico, and Texas, the FDA made sure that they assured the public that at this time, “there continues to be no concern that this circumstance poses a risk to consumer health.”

The FDA also stressed that most milk distributed all over the United States is pasteurized, and the process has “continually proven to inactivate bacteria and viruses, like influenza.”

The federal health agency also notes uncertainty regarding whether avian flu can be transmitted through consuming unpasteurized (raw) milk and products such as cheese made from the raw milk of infected cows.

Wild Birds Culprit for Spread of Avian Flu in Commercial Poultry

The Texas Department of Agriculture revealed on Tuesday that an outbreak of H5N1 avian flu had been identified at a poultry facility operated by Cal-Maine Foods, the largest U.S. producer of fresh eggs. In response, the agency mandated the culling of 1.6 million laying hens and 337,000 pullets (young female chickens).

Meanwhile, in Michigan this week, agricultural authorities issued warnings regarding the spread of bird flu following its detection at a commercial poultry facility. Wild birds are believed to be the origin of the outbreak.

“As the weather remains cool and wild birds continue their migration, conditions are ideal for the virus to thrive and spread,” state veterinarian, Nora Wineland, DVM, said in a recent statement. “While these conditions persist, the need to take preventative measures will be high.”

People handling birds are advised to wash their hands both before and after interacting with them.

Bird Flu Has Also Spread to Dairy Cows

According to the Texas Department of Agriculture, cows infected with avian flu are showing symptoms such as fever, producing thick and discolored milk, and experiencing a significant decrease in milk production.

“No contaminated milk is known to have entered the food chain; it has all been dumped,” agriculture commissioner, Sid Miller, said in a statement. “In the rare event that some affected milk enters the food chain, the pasteurization process will kill the virus.”

To curb the spread of disease, infected cows are being isolated, and comprehensive cleaning and disinfection measures are being implemented across all livestock. Unlike poultry, dairy herds are not being culled.

The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service suggests that wild migratory birds are likely responsible for transmitting the infection to cows.

Make Sure to Cook Eggs Well, and Don’t Be Too Concerned

The current outbreak of avian flu shouldn’t cause too much panic, as per Rich. “Cases among humans are very rare and those infected don’t become infectious to other people,” he said.

Considering the minimal risk of transmission to humans, Rich advises against undue worry. However, for those who wish to take additional precautions, being mindful of how eggs are prepared or sourced is recommended.