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National Restaurant Association - 6 tips on how to deal with bird flu

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6 tips on how to deal with bird flu

On March 3, a strain of H7 avian influenza was detected at a poultry farm in southern Tennessee. Since then, nearly 74,000 birds have been euthanized and removed from the operation. The farm is now under quarantine, as are 30 other poultry farms within a 6.2-mile radius. And on March 9, another farm, in Giles County, Tenn., reported a lesser strain of the virus in 17,000 of its birds. The USDA and Tennessee Department of Agriculture are testing the flocks.

Increased biosecurity measures

Poultry suppliers Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride and Sanderson Farms all increased biosecurity measures at their facilities. Those measures include:

  • The elimination of all nonessential visitor access to the chicken farms
  • Proper disinfection of vehicles entering farms
  • Use of biosecurity uniforms for all visitors
  • Special training for company employees who come into contact with live birds

Tyson, which purchases chickens from the affected farm, has responded aggressively and is working diligently with federal and state agencies to ensure the virus has been contained. The company also asserts that no birds have been or will be transported or placed into the food supply unless they’ve tested negative for the virus. It also said it doesn’t expect disruptions to its chicken business.

Our experts weigh in

In the wake of the recent outbreak, our food-safety experts – William Weichelt, Vito Palazzolo and Mick Miklos – are sharing thoughts on what suppliers, operators and their poultry purchasers should know:

  1. Follow federally-mandated safety regulations and standards.
    This is a federal issue, so it is important to follow all rules regarding monitoring, diagnosis and actions set by the USDA and FDA. They are responsible for controlling and limiting the spread of bird flu and its aftereffects.
  2. This is an animal health issue, not a food-safety issue.
    If any infected chickens were ever processed, there’s no evidence suggesting the illness could be transmitted to humans – provided the poultry is properly cooked. The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control say properly cooked poultry (minimum of 165 degrees with proper hygiene) is safe to eat.
  1. Purchase poultry processed in USDA-inspected plants only.
    The USDA is in every plant that processes birds, and they’re doing the necessary testing to ensure food safety. If you use local sourcing methods to procure your poultry, make sure they, too, use a USDA-inspected processing plant. Also, make sure they have a testing protocol set up and are willing to share their protocols and copies of the Certificate of Analysis (COA) that ensure they’re actually conducting testing. If they aren’t, find a new supplier.
  2. Have a communications strategy in place.
    Restaurateurs should be prepared to talk to concerned customers about how they are serving safe food to their guests. Be upfront and knowledgeable with the public; have talking points that address how your food items are sourced.
  3. Maintain personal sanitary practices.
    If you’ve had contact with sick or dead poultry or wildlife, wash your hands well with soap and water. Also, be sure to change your clothing before you have contact with healthy domestic poultry and birds.
  1. Where to get the latest news or updates on the situation
    Information is available from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services and from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.
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