Table of Contents:

Foreword

Introduction

I. Storm Gathering

1. 1918

2. Master of Metamorphosis

3. H5N1

4. Playing Chicken

5. Worse Than 1918?

6. When, Not If

II. When Animal Viruses Attack

1. The Third Age

2. Man Made

3. Livestock Revolution

4. Tracing the Flight Path

5. One Flu Over the Chicken's Nest

6. Coming Home to Roost

7. Guarding the Henhouse

III. Pandemic Preparedness

1. Cooping Up Bird Flu

2. Race Against Time

3. Tamiflu

IV. Surviving the Pandemic

1. Don't Wing It

2. Our Health in Our Hands

3. Be Prepared

V. Preventing Future Pandemics

1. Tinderbox

2. Reining in the Pale Horse

Topics

References 1-3,199

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Consumer Reports on chicken

Animal manure is the source of more than 100 pathogens, including bacteria, parasites, and viruses that could be transmitted from animals to humans, such as influenza.411 According to the WHO’s International Food Safety Authorities Network, when it comes to bird flu viruses like H5N1, “handling of frozen or thawed raw poultry meat before cooking can be hazardous if good hygiene practices are not observed.”412 According to the USDA, this includes washing hands, cutting boards, knives, utensils, and all countertops and surfaces with hot, soapy water after cutting raw meats. All meat and their “juices” need to be quarantined away from all other foods. Further, cutting boards need to be sanitized with a chlorine bleach solution (1 teaspoon bleach in 1 quart of water), and food thermometers should be used without exception.413

One state epidemiologist describes what she does to avoid foodborne illness risks in general: “I assume that poultry is contaminated, and that any package of hamburger I buy is grossly contaminated too. When I’m preparing a turkey or hamburger, I have everything out and ready, the pan on the counter, right where my meat is, so that I don’t have to go in the cupboard to get it. Then I’ve got the soap handy, of course. After I handle the meat, I use my wrists to turn on the faucet so I’m not touching it with my dirty hands. I wash my hands thoroughly for at least thirty seconds.”414

This is why the official U.S. poultry industry’s slogan should bird flu ever hit the country, “Avian Influenza: It’s not in your food,”415 may be so misleading. That’s like saying Salmonella is not in your food. Or Campylobacter is not in your food. Tell that to the millions of Americans who fall ill every year from these poultry pathogens.416 Would we go to the store and pick up a package of meat that might be contaminated with HIV or hepatitis, even if there was a certainty that the virus was killed by cooking? We presumably wouldn’t want to risk bringing any potentially deadly viruses into our home. Poultry industry spokespeople dismiss consumer concern in affected countries as “totally irrational,”417 but the public seems instead to be taking a precautionary approach which may be prudent given the prevailing uncertainties.418 Leading flu expert Albert Osterhaus, director of the Netherlands National Influenza Centre, concludes, “Available evidence suggests that the gastrointestinal tract in humans is a portal of entry for H5N1.”419

A WHO spokesperson adds the critical caveat: “The chicken is safe to eat if it is well cooked, provided that the people preparing the chicken have not contaminated themselves from somewhere.”420 Thai government officials reportedly confirmed that a 48-year-old man died of bird flu after cooking and eating a neighbor’s infected chickens.421 Maybe he didn’t properly Clorox his cutting board or he accidentally used his hand to turn on the kitchen faucet. Maybe he didn’t sterilize his meat thermometer every time he checked to see if the fecal viruses had been killed. “To me,” writes Nicols Fox, “it is really asking the consumer to operate a kind of biohazard lab.”422

Consider the CDC’s recommended disposal methods for carcasses known to be infected with bird flu:
  • Disposable gloves made of lightweight nitrile or vinyl or heavy duty rubber work gloves that can be disinfected should be worn…. Gloves should be changed if torn or otherwise damaged. Remove gloves promptly after use, before touching non-contaminated items and environmental surfaces.
  • Protective clothing, preferably disposable outer garments or coveralls, an impermeable apron or surgical gowns with long cuffed sleeves, plus an impermeable apron should be worn.
  • Disposable protective shoe covers or rubber or polyurethane boots that can be cleaned and disinfected should be worn.
  • Safety goggles should be worn to protect the mucous membranes of eyes.
  • Disposable particulate respirators (e.g., N-95, N-99, or N-100) are the minimum level of respiratory protection that should be worn…. Workers must be fit-tested to the respirator model that they will wear and also know how to check the face-piece to face seal. Workers who cannot wear a disposable particulate respirator because of facial hair or other fit limitations should wear a loose-fitting (i.e., helmeted or hooded) powered air purifying respirator equipped with high-efficiency filters.423

This should give pause to those of us who might unknowingly dispose of infected carcasses through consumption.

Bird flu viruses like H5N1 can survive in feces as long as 35 days at low temperatures.424 But can’t we just wash it off? Though the virus may still actually be in the meat itself, with proper cooking those viruses should die. Poultry companies are actually revising labeling to steer consumers away from the age-old practice of washing a fresh bird inside and out.425 In fact, the new federal dietary guidelines specifically recommend that “meat and poultry should not be washed or rinsed.” The USDA is concerned that this practice could cause viral or bacterial splatter from “raw meat and poultry juices.” Animals, of course, are not fruit; they don’t really have “juice,” per se. “Chicken juice” is the fecal broth absorbed in the chill bath.

The Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter explains: “Your own hands, where they grasped the meat while washing it, could become just as bacteria-laden as the surface of the food…. The best bet is to leave meat or poultry untouched until you start cooking it.”426 What are we supposed to do, levitate it into the oven? New research suggests we could infect ourselves before even leaving the grocery store.

Researchers recently published a study in the Journal of Food Protection in which they swabbed the plastic-wrapped surface of prepackaged raw meat in grocery stores for fecal contamination. Even though most of the packages looked clean on the outside, the researchers found Salmonella, Campylobacter, and multidrug-resistant E. coli on the outer surface of the packages, suggesting that just picking up a package of meat in the store could put one at risk. Poultry beat the competition for the most contamination. A single swab picked up more than 10,000 live E. coli bacteria. The researchers conclude, “The external packaging of raw meats is a vehicle for potential cross-contamination by Campylobacter, Salmonella, and E. coli in retail premises and consumers’ homes.”427

Realizing this level of contamination, bird flu experts at a CDC symposium reminded consumers not to touch our mucous membranes—rub our eyes or noses—while handling any raw poultry products.428 Vegetarian? Risk applies to non-meat-eaters as well: Any fecal-fluid drippings of bird droppings trailing down the checkout counter conveyer belt could easily contaminate fresh produce.

A cooked fly in one’s soup poses no danger. Fecal matter, once properly shaked and baked, may be perfectly safe, but we may still not want to feed it to our family. “After all,” as Consumer Reports puts it, “sterilized poop is still poop.”429 What would we do if we found out that there was a small chance that in the back of the grocery store, some malicious prankster had smeared our dinner with bird droppings? Would we still buy it? What if the chance of contamination was greater than 90%?

Time magazine put it this way: “The good news about chicken is that thanks to modern processing techniques, it costs only about a third of what it did two decades ago. The bad news is that an uncooked chicken has become one of the most dangerous items in the American home.”430 There are a number of toxins that can make one ill that are denatured (destroyed) by cooking, such as botulinum toxin, the cause of botulism. Even if such a toxin is rendered utterly and completely harmless by cooking, would we still consider bringing contaminated products into our homes, putting them onto the kitchen counter, and feeding them to our kids, knowing that one accident on our part, one little spill, one little drip, could potentially land our loved ones in the hospital?

Some suggest keeping birds out of the kitchen altogether. During an interview recorded by the Government Accountability Project, a USDA meat inspector stated:
I will not buy inspected product—only what I raise. I do not eat out, and I don’t allow my children to eat at school. We didn’t use to have to put warning labels on product for “safe handling” but we do now. This is just a politically correct way of saying “cook good, this product may contain fecal matter and other poor sanitary handling bacterias.” I was told by a supervisor some time back that if you cook a piece of [feces] to 170 degrees you can eat it and it won’t hurt you. But I don’t really think the consumer is aware of the [feces] they are being fed.431