Questions and Answers Regarding the Safety of Eggs During Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Outbreaks
What is HPAI and why is it a problem?
Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) is the disease caused by the avian influenza virus also known as bird or avian flu. HPAI is naturally spread among wild aquatic birds worldwide and can infect domestic poultry and other bird and animal species. Although bird flu viruses do not normally infect humans, sporadic human infections have occurred.
On February 8, 2022, HPAI was detected in a commercial turkey flock in Indiana. The US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and affected states are responding to this recent outbreak.
As of April 26, 2022, 235 commercial and private flocks have been affected, and HPAI has been detected in 857 wild birds. Regulatory authorities are working with farmers to put in place control measures that prevent further spread of the virus. Updated information on the number of detection events is available on the USDA- APHIS.
Information on HPAI and poultry is accessible through the USDA Avian Influenza.
Are eggs in the retail market safe to eat?
Yes. The likelihood that eggs from infected poultry are found in the retail market is low and proper storage and preparation further reduce the risk. In 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) participated in a joint risk assessment with the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to examine the human health impact of HPAI in poultry, shell eggs, and egg products. The risk assessment determined that the risk of humans becoming infected with HPAI through the consumption of contaminated shell eggs is low. For instance, when a case of HPAI is detected in the US, the chance of infected poultry or eggs entering the food chain is low because of the rapid onset of symptoms in poultry as well as the safeguards in place, which include testing of flocks and federal inspection programs.
Additionally, when food is properly prepared and stored, the risk of consumers becoming infected with HPAI is reduced even further. For more information of HPAI and human health visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Highly Pathogenic Asian Avian Influenza A(H5N1) Virus.
The joint risk assessment is available at: USDA Interagency Risk Assessment for the Public Health Impact of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus in Poultry, Shell Eggs, and Egg Products.
Do I need to make changes to my food preparation?
There is no evidence that the virus can be transmitted to humans through properly prepared food. Safe food handling and preparation is always important. Cooking poultry, eggs, and other animal products to the proper temperature and preventing cross-contamination between raw and cooked food are the keys to prevent any food safety hazard. To this end, the FDA’s Food Code provides guidelines on proper preparation of foods to retail establishments; moreover, the FDA has published several fact sheets, pamphlets, flyers, and videos on proper preparation of foods for both consumers and retail food establishments. For more information on proper egg handling and cooking: What You Need to Know About Egg Safety.
What federal agencies are responsible for ensuring the safety of eggs?
The FDA and USDA FSIS share regulatory authority over egg safety. In addition, the USDA-APHIS conducts a control program that certifies poultry breeding stock and hatcheries as Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) - free and the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) conducts a surveillance program to ensure proper disposition of restricted shell eggs (i.e., eggs that cannot be marketed as table eggs).
Under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, (FFDCA) the FDA protects consumers against impure, unsafe, and fraudulently labeled food, which includes shell eggs. The FDA has regulations in place that govern proper production, transportation, and storage of shell eggs.
The USDA has primary responsibility for implementing the Egg Products Inspection Act (EPIA). Under the EPIA, FSIS has primary responsibility for the inspection of processed egg products to prevent the distribution of adulterated or misbranded liquid, frozen and dried egg products.
Is the FDA taking steps to prevent the spread of HPAI on farm visits during egg inspections?
Following the 2014-2015 avian flu outbreak, the FDA updated its biosecurity protocols for on-farm visits to prevent the spread of HPAI during inspections. Before initiating an egg farm inspection, the FDA:
- Uses a HPAI risk-based classification system to determine the order in which egg farms are inspected,
- Contacts the State Veterinarian/State Animal Health Official before initiating inspections to ensure there are no quarantines or other reasons investigators should not visit a specific farm,
- Conducts a check of the most up-to-date information on USDA’s HPAI reporting website for any detection in close proximity to the intended inspection,
- Follows the mandatory waiting periods between inspections and uses multiple inspection teams,
- Thoroughly washes the vehicles used during inspection before and after every inspection and at the end of every day on multiday inspections. This is followed by sanitation of the floor mats, the wheel wells and undercarriage of the vehicle with appropriate disinfectants.
Should farmers who have biosecurity plans in place be concerned about HPAI?
Farmers who continuously follow the biosecurity requirements in 21 CFR 118.4(b) will reduce the potential risk of HPAI infection in birds on the farm. The biosecurity requirements of this regulation, which are aimed at preventing the introduction or transfer of Salmonella Enteritidis onto a farm, also serve to reduce the risk of HPAI contaminating the farm. Since wild birds and migratory waterfowl can be carriers of HPAI, the requirement to prevent wild birds, cats, stray poultry, and other animals from entering poultry houses also serves to protect against HPAI.
Are there additional biosecurity measures farmers can implement to further protect their farms from HPAI?
The USDA’s APHIS works to defend America’s animal and plant resources from agricultural pests and diseases. APHIS has developed biosecurity measures for poultry which are available at their website: Defend the Flock - Biosecurity 101.
For more information on Avian Influenza.
- Bird flu infections in humans
- Past avian flu outbreaks in humans
- Information on influenza
- Playing It Safe With Eggs
- Impact of HPAI in poultry, shell eggs and egg products