Test determines presence of avian flu virus in foods

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Influenza Avian influenza Transmission and infection of h5n1

Eurofins Scientific has launched what it calls the first test
available for determining whether food has been infected with the
avian flu virus.

The company says it is offering the testing service due to a demand from some food industry customers. The test detects the presence of the bird flu virus strain H5N1, known as avian influenza.

"Although it fully agrees with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) statement from its press release on 26th October 2005 where it says that 'whilst it is unlikely that H5N1 could be passed onto humans by raw meat or eggs, cooking food properly would inactivate the virus and eliminate this potential risk', some customers still demand testing of certain raw products to reduce the risk of consumers and employees to almost zero,"​ Eurofins stated yesterday.

The Netherlands-based food testing company has laboratories throughout the EU.

Bert Popping, director of the company's molecular biology and immunology unit said that while zero risk is not achievable in preventing the virus contamination, the test would help provide a certain level of confidence.

"Whilst zero risk is not achievable, such test is as close as one can get,"​ he stated. "As a consequence for this demand, Eurofins has implemented the assay in selected laboratories worldwide. At this time, we do not anticipate to receive significant sample numbers for this test however."

In technical terms the test is based on using the reverse transcriptase method combined with a multiplex polymerase chain reaction (PCR) where sequences specific to the virus are detected. The assay has been validated in several laboratories worldwide, Eurofins stated.

EU poultry processors were affected by big drops in consumer demand following discoveries in October that avian flu had been detected in migratory birds in Greece and Romania. Consumers were driven by the rising fear that the avian influenza virus will spread throughout the bloc and infect poultry products.

During the period EFSA issued a statement outlining its previous advice that Europeans should avoid eating raw eggs and cook chicken carefully as part of the precautions for ensuring that the virus does not infect humans.

The deadly H5N1 virus first surfaced in Asia and is spreading westward through migrating birds. Demand for poultry products reportedly fell by between 30 per cent to 40 per cent in Italy, with lesser falls occurring in other countries according to Cees Vermeeren, the Brussels representative for the Association of Poultry Processors and Poultry Trade in the EU countries (AVEC).

In October Greece became the first EU member state to report a case of the deadly bird flu variant. This after previous confirmation of cases in Turkey and Romania.

The ongoing outbreak in Asia has led to the destruction of more than 125 million birds, the death of around 60 people and economic losses estimated at €8 to €12 billion, according to AVEC, the EU's association for poultry processors. In Europe the reduced import supply pressures from Asian markets led to European poultry prices rising, which was also boosted by high feed grain costs last year.

In other news poultry keepers in the UK must now list their birds on a central register as an avian flu control measure. The database will collate information for poultry keepers in Wales, Scotland and England, the country's Food Standards Authority said this week. A separate register has been set up in Northern Ireland.

Related topics Food Safety & Quality

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