In recent weeks, there has been news about a new wave of Bird Flu (also known as Avian Influenza or Avian Flu) in several parts of the world, including India, and just like so many other news, instantly everyone was told not to eat chicken-based dishes for some time until all of this goes away. Like all baby boomers, my parents had told me not to eat chicken outside or even through takeaways. Being an ardent foodie, I decided to dive deep and find out what bird flu is, what causes it, and how it would affect our daily food intake.
What Is Bird Flu?
Bird Flu is actually the informal name given to Avian influenza, which, as the name suggests, is a type of influenza that specifically spreads very easily between birds. What is dangerous about this virus is that it is highly adaptable and can morph into a new strain when going through different types of hosts. There are many variants of the virus, but the most dangerous one is the H5N1. Since the mutations are unpredictable and highly contagious, governments around the world keep a close eye on the bird population, especially chickens, due to the high-density factory farms where a single chicken with the virus can infect the entire farm in a matter of a week. While the probability of the transfer from bird to human is not high, any actual transmission and mutation can result in another pandemic, just like the COVID-19 we have been enduring for the past year or so. Some of the common symptoms of Bird Flu in humans are cold, cough, fever, sore throat, muscle aches, pneumonia.
Why Does It Affect Only Chickens?
This is another misconception that Bird flu is only found in chickens. It is one of the most transmissive diseases in birds, and the reason why it spreads so easily is because of the migration of birds. There are a lot of species, such as pigeons, that can carry the virus without succumbing to it, meaning that the virus can easily spread before we even detect it. The only reason why we equate chicken with Bird Flu is that the only time we hear about it is when the authorities have found a massive flock of infected birds and are culling them.
How Does Bird Flu Affect Our Food Chain?
In the olden days, when a chicken was discovered with Bird Flu in a village farm, the amount of impact that it would cause is less since these chickens roam around a small area and the amount of contact with other animals is less. With the advent of industrial level chicken farming where they are cooped up in small spaces with barely any room to move, a single chicken can put the entire place out of the running for at least a couple of weeks. Infected birds shed flu viruses through their saliva, nasal secretions, and droppings; Each farm raises around 100,000 chickens at a time in sequences, so usually as a preventative measure, the government prefers to cull the entire batch and disinfect the whole area rather than checking each chicken one by one. The current policies state that all farm animals within 3km of the detection have to be culled."There is a misconception that Bird flu is only found in chickens. It is one of the most transmissive diseases in birds, and the reason why it spreads so easily is because of the migration of birds." Click To Tweet
Another factor is transportation: Some of the chickens are raised partially in one farm as hatchlings and then transferred to bigger farms as they grow. This would mean the infection can even spread between a number of farms before the virus is detected. The net result will be a lower production and availability of chicken at the market. I know you are like, “But I’m still able to buy as much chicken as I want; I’m not seeing any out-of-stock boards at any outlets,” but that is probably because of the lower demand whenever Bird Flu news breaks out. This brings us to the next question:
Are Chickens Safe To Eat In The Times Of Bird Flu?
There is a common misconception that whenever there is a flare-up of bird flu, all the areas in the vicinity will see a big drop in the amount of poultry and egg consumption. This is due to an age-old rumor that meat comes tainted, and cooking it will make no difference.
Just like almost all other viruses and bacteria, high heat is known to destroy them, and for Bird Flu, anything above 70 degrees celsius is more than enough to kill it. When it comes to eggs, whenever there is an outbreak, avoid making any dishes with runny eggs and stick to dishes that have the eggs fully cooked. For meat, make sure it is completely cooked down to the middle, and there are no uncooked parts in the dishes. Personally, I take an extra step of precaution of washing the chicken meat thoroughly with synthetic vinegar. Not only does it kill bacterias, but it also takes away the raw meat stench that sometimes lingers on even after cooking.
That being said, it is safer to make it at home than buying it from the restaurant as you can never be sure of how well the food has been cooked or how hygienic the place is. If you still want to order from outside, buy dishes that are slow-roasted like Tandoori, Grilled, or Barbeque chickens. These types of dishes are in constant high heat for a minimum of 15 to 20 minutes, so you can rest assured that the meat is not only cooked through and through but also free of any virus or germs. Avoid any dishes that have boiled chicken as even though the meat will seem to be cooked, the heat might not have penetrated through the center.
The Bottomline – While people like farmers, butchers who are in contact with chickens might get the bird flu, all studies suggest that the general population is not affected at all. As long as you clean and cook the meat properly, there shouldn’t be even the slightest chance of getting infected. Always check local guidelines to ensure you are always informed and not falling for any false rumors that tend to circulate every time a piece of news like this comes out. I hope this post was informative enough in case you guys had any doubts. Let me know in the comments below if you have any other questions. Until next time, stay healthy!