Germany finds H5N1 in frozen duck meat

Sep 10, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – A government official in Bavaria said today there was a chance that some frozen duck meat contaminated with the H5N1 avian influenza virus made its way to consumers' tables, according to a German news agency.

The virus was found in 18 frozen ducks from a batch sample at a poultry company slaughterhouse, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) reported today.

The DPA article says the birds are from a processor in the town of Wachenroth, which is the location of Germany's most recent H5N1 poultry outbreak, according to a report from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

After the disease struck 4,000 birds at Wachenroth, animal health officials culled more than 129,000 birds, the OIE report said.

Meanwhile, German officials culled more than 205,000 birds at two nearby farms in Trumling and Hofing because the two facilities have business ties to the affected Wachenroth site, Reuters reported on Sep 8. Frank Pfeffer, a Bavarian government spokesman, said the birds didn't appear sick but were destroyed as a precaution, because blood tests showed they had antibodies to the H5N1 virus.

Roland Eichhorn, a Bavarian consumer affairs minister, said that at the first sign of the outbreak, authorities impounded all meat produced on the farms on or after July 30, DPA reported. He said animal-health officials believe the outbreak began Aug 1.

However, Eichorn told DPA that he couldn't rule out the possibility that some of the infected meat reached food stores and was sold to consumers. But if it was, the health risk would be low, he asserted.

"This type of duck is casseroled, and then the meat poses no danger to the consumer," he told DPA.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cooking poultry to 70°C (158°F) kills the H5N1 virus, and so far humans have not gotten sick from eating properly cooked poultry, even if the meat contained the virus before it was cooked. (The US Department of Agriculture recommends cooking meat to 165°F to kill foodborne pathogens, including avian influenza.)

Several human H5N1 cases have resulted from eating improperly cooked poultry products. Also, unsafe food-handling practices could allow the virus to spread from raw poultry to other foods to be eaten raw, leading to infection.

During the H5N1 outbreak at a British turkey farm last February, officials were concerned that turkey meat imported from restricted avian flu zones in Hungary might enter the UK food chain. However, an investigation by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) found no evidence of illegally imported turkey meat and concluded no H5N1-infected meat reached food stores.

See also:

OIE reports on Germany outbreak

Aug 25 CIDRAP News story "Germany, Vietnam battle H5N1 in poultry"

CIDRAP avian influenza overview

USDA avian influenza information

Feb 16 UK Food Standards Agency statement

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