US to test ground beef in states with bird-flu outbreaks in dairy cows

Government is confident the meat supply is safe
calendar icon 30 April 2024
clock icon 3 minute read

The US government said on Monday it is collecting samples of ground beef at retail stores in states with outbreaks of avian influenza in dairy cows for testing but remains confident the meat supply is safe, reported Reuters.

Federal officials are seeking to verify the safety of milk and meat after confirming the H5N1 virus in 34 dairy cattle herds in nine states since late March, and in one person in Texas.

Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have said the overall public health risk is low, but is higher for those with exposure to infected animals.

Scientists believe outbreaks are more widespread in cows than officially reported based on findings of H5N1 particles in about 20% of milk samples. The US Food and Drug Administration said on Friday that preliminary results of gold-standard PCR tests showed pasteurization killed the avian influenza virus in milk, though.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) will analyse retail ground beef samples with PCR tests that indicate "whether any viral particles are present," according to a statement. Some dairy cows are processed into ground beef when they grow old.

The USDA on Monday began requiring lactating dairy cows to test negative for bird flu before being moved across state lines as officials seek to contain the virus.

The department said this weekend that testing is not required for cows that are shipped over state lines directly to slaughter facilities from barns where they are sold. Those cattle only need documentation showing they were inspected by a veterinarian.

The USDA said it inspects each animal before slaughter, and all cattle carcasses must pass inspection after slaughter to enter the human food supply.

Last week USDA said it had found avian influenza in a lung tissue sample from an asymptomatic dairy cow that was sent to slaughter from an infected herd. The animal did not enter the food supply, according to the department.

The USDA is now collecting beef muscle samples at slaughter facilities of dairy cattle that have been condemned to determine the presence of viral particles, according to the statement. Any positive PCR tests for retail or slaughter samples will be evaluated for live virus, the USDA said.

The USDA will also use a "virus surrogate" in ground beef and cook it at different temperatures to determine how the virus is affected, according to the statement. It said cooking meat to a safe internal temperature kills bacteria and viruses

Colombia restricted the import of beef and beef products coming from U.S. states where dairy cows have tested positive for avian influenza as of April 15, according to the USDA.

There are no known cases of avian influenza in beef cattle so far.

The human case in the current outbreak was in a Texas farm worker who suffered conjunctivitis following exposure to dairy cows.

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