Greater vigilance needed to prevent avian flu outbreak

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Avian influenza Influenza

Food processors, especially those pasturising egg whites and
importing poultry ingredients from abroad, should remain vigilant,
according to advice on avian influenza from the EU's food safety

The advice also notes that the standard of 54.4C for seven days used for dried egg white would be inadequate for acceptable heat inactivation of the virus and should therefore be reconsidered whenimports of such products take place. An alarm is now spreading across European countries as worries mount that a virulent form of bird flu could spread westwards from Siberia. Experts are saying that the H5N1 form of the virus couldspread into the poultry population here, carried by migratory fowl. The mutation could lead to illnesses and event death in humans. If the disease hits here the EU might have to cull entire flocks to stop the disease from spreading and infecting humans, raising not only a supply problem for food processors, but also a drop inconsumption due to consumers fears. European consumers are increasing concerned about food safety, mainly due to the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) scare in cattle, a foot and mouth disease outbreak in 2001 and of avian fluin 2003. In the EU poultry consumption overtook demand for beef and veal in 1996, when BSE hit the headlines. The advice on avian influenza was contained an European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) document released this week. It calls on the EU's poultry farmers to get ready to act against bird flu,increasing their surveillance and preparing for mass vaccinations or culls if the disease takes hold. The document also outlines a variety of culling methods that can be used to lessen animalsuffering. In the case of food processors, Alun Jones, EFSA's spokesman, said the European Commission has introduced import measures to prevent the entry of poultry and poultry products from regions which areexperiencing the highly pathogenic form of the virus. "Therefore, if legally imported products are used, there should be no need for change in present processing practices," he told "Although the EFSAreport identifies one 'standard of 54.4oC for seven days used for dried egg white' as inadequate for acceptable heat inactivation of the virus, this should only take on a higher importance if theepidemiological situation in Europe were to change, that is if highly pathogenic avian influenza were to become present in Europe." If this were the case and if industry were using the above standard for producing dried egg white, there are still other industry standards which can deal effectively with the virus in dried eggwhites, such as pasteurization protocols of 67°C for 15 days. There is no evidence to date that food can be a source of infection, he noted. "In addition, AI viruses are heat-liable viruses and normal cooking temperatures inactivate the virus," he said. "Therefore, food processors should take care ofthe HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) and GMP (good manufacturing practices) systems, ensuring no cross-contamination happens between raw and processed products, but this should be doneas a matter of course anyway by the industry in terms of normal hygiene and processing methods." EFSA noted in its report that there is evidence that illegal importations of poultry, poultry products and other birds and their products occur in significant quantities into the EU. These importscould lead to the introduction of bird flu to EU member states, EFSA scientists warned. Evidence of the risk that such illegal trade represents has recently been identified at the EU border by the seizure of two smuggled captive birds infected with a virulent form of bird flu at Brussels airport in November 2004. In processed products, the likelihood of highly pathogenic version of the infections or for products likely to contain or be contaminated with faeces from infected birds, will depend on theeffectiveness of the processing, the scientists stated. EFSA scientists also noted that standard industrial pasteurization for egg whites is very likely to reduce any possible presence of the virus in egg products to an extremely low level. However, thestandard of 54.4C for seven days used for dried egg white would be inadequate for acceptable heat inactivation of the virus and should therefore be reconsidered for imports. "At present there is a paucity of scientific data on the survival of AI (avian influenza) viruses in processed products during physical treatments such as heat, high or low pH etc. andfigures set for trading purposes are usually based to a large extent on general knowledge of the resistance of influenza viruses and not on specific experimental data," the scientists stated. The scientists called for further studies on the survival of the viruses in poultry commodities, including the effect of physical treatments. Studies need to be done to investigate the full rangeof potential information on illegal imports, they said. The H5N1 strain of bird flu hit Hong Kong in 1997, killing or forcing the culling of 1.5 million chickens, geese and ducks. The same strain has killed 63 people in Asia since late 2003, accordingto World Health Organisation figures. External links to companies or organisations mentioned in this story: European Food Safety Authority

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