According to World Health Organization (WHO) most bird flu viruses do not infect people except the A (H5N1) and A (H7N9) viruses. Though some new virus have been discovered yet the most common virus that infects human being either from dead or alive poultry is the A (H5N1) and A (H7N9) so controlling the disease in birds is important. However, people need to understand that the disease mostly spreads from poultry to poultry. The virus can infect only those people who are in direct contact with the infected birds. The disease rarely spreads from one person to another. Most cases of bird flu in humans are a result of direct contact with the infected birds or surfaces that are contaminated with secretions or excretion from infected birds.
Bird flu has been reported from all over the world particularly from China (Hong Kong), Japan, Britain, USA, Egypt, Germany, Italy and Libya. Japan and Hong Kong have culled lakhs of birds. China and India have both banned the import of poultry from the USA. In India Kerala culled 3lakh ducks followed by Chandigarh where the ducks in the Sukhna Lake were found to be infected with the A (H5N1) virus strain. While Tamil Nadu stopped the inflow of poultry from Kerala Uttar Pradesh stopped inflow of poultry from other states.
Since Chandigarh is close to Simla, the death of 300 chickens the fear of the spread of bird flu gripped them even though later the birds tested negative for bird flu. However, the bird deaths brought to light how Health, Food Safety Standard (FSS) Regulatory Authority, municipal bodies and Animal Husbandry Department are playing with consumers’ health.
Since Himachal has put chicken and meat on the essential commodities list, it falls on the Food Safety Authority to ensure quality supply of these items but consumers say that their health is being endangered as there is no mandatory testing and checking as required under the Food Safety and Standards (FSS) Act, 2006. Private suppliers have a free hand as they are not checked by authorities and so they supply cheap and poor quality chicken to make quick money. They are also breaking all health and safety norms as they
- Get certificates from unauthorized veterinarian doctors
- Transport meat in pick-up vans, packed in unhealthy gunny bags instead of chilled vans
- Do not cull birds imported from Haryana and Punjab even for three bacterial infections, and use chemical sprays to de-feather the birds
Since chicken supplied from Municipal slaughterhouses is 15% to 20% higher, the shopkeepers also do not care and mix both good and bad quality chicken for selling to consumers. In Himachal the Directorate of Health Safety and Regulation is responsible for implementing the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954, and Rules 1955 and Food Safety Standard Act, 2006.
Food Safety officials say that it is the responsibility of the district administration to check all slaughter houses including the MC ones. This case may be related to Simla only but the story can be true for most of India as the condition of slaughterhouses and irregularities is a common factor in many other states in India.
According to health experts, lack of information and knowledge about the virus is adding to the scare. Though duck consumption dropped in Kerala there is no need to panic as Kerala has taken all steps to curb the spread of virus. The samples from Himachal were not found to be infected.
Poultry in Chandigarh is also unaffected and is safe for consumption. The government has taken all possible precautionary measures to check any spread of virus in birds and all is under control say officials.
Health organizations like the WHO, FDA and AIIMS in India support the evidence that bird flu cannot be spread by cooking food. However, those food business operators, who serve cooked poultry in their restaurants and catering businesses, must ensure that meat is not left partially cooked or served raw. Experts say, poultry should be cooked for at least half an hour at 70°C so it is safe for consumption.
Food Safety & Standards Regulations mentions; Paultry should be cooked thoroughly (core temperature 75° C for at least 15 seconds or an effective time/temperature control e.g. 65°C for 10 minutes, 70°C for 2 minutes).
Here are some tips given by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that FBOs can follow in order to ensure they are serving the consumer disease free meat and eggs. Ensure that your employees are following these precautions.
- Wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water after handling raw poultry and eggs
- Clean cutting boards and other utensils thoroughly with soap and hot water so that poultry does not contaminate other foods
- Use cooking thermometer to make sure poultry is being cooked at 75°C as consumers are likely to prefer the poultry that is cooked at a higher temperature. Eggs should be cooked till the whites and yolks are both firm