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Topics > Healthy Outlook > FAQ: Avian Flu

FAQ: Avian Flu

Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on Wed, Jan. 04, 2006
By Richard K. Lee

CAN I GET bird flu from handling raw chicken, or from a restaurant chicken sandwich? Can I get bird flu from eating turkey? Can I get sick from "medium-rare" steak in a restaurant? Is it safe to eat a hamburger that is pink in the middle?

Here are some answers and facts:

Is it safe to eat chicken, poultry, and eggs?
Yes, if properly cooked, including turkey. But don't eat poultry if the meat or juices are pink, or if egg whites are clear.

Has the United States banned poultry coming from countries affected by bird (avian) flu?
Yes. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has made very strict importing restrictions to prevent the spread of the bird flu virus in the United States. The USDA has also developed a system to monitor bird and poultry populations in this country.

Is there bird flu in the United States?
No, but this could change at any time. There will be widespread media coverage of any bird flu cases in the United States.

Can a person get bird flu by eating an infected bird?
Not if the poultry is properly cooked. Proper cooking kills the virus that causes bird flu.

What about cooking other food?
Cooked meat should be heated to the following temperatures to be sure bacteria and viruses are killed.

  • Poultry and stuffing: 180 degrees
  • Beef, lamb and seafood: 145 degrees
  • Hamburger (ground beef): 155 degrees
  • Pork: 155 degrees
  • Rare Beef: 130 degrees

You must place a thermometer in the thickest part of the meat or in the center of the food to get an accurate reading.

Is red meat or pork that is pink inside safe to eat?
Yes, most muscle meat (pork, veal, lamb, beef) can be eaten safely if slightly pink.

Can I freeze meat or poultry before the "use by" dates?
Yes. Foods do not become unsafe if properly frozen.

What are safe food handling and preparation tips to use?

  • Wash hands, utensils, and kitchen surfaces, including your cutting board, with hot soapy water before and after preparing food.
  • Keep raw meat and poultry apart from other foods, unless you are cooking them together.
  • Boil or discard all marinade that has come in contact with raw meat or poultry. Never add used, unboiled marinade to cooked meat to "give it a little extra flavor."
  • Eat leftover refrigerated meat and poultry within 4 days, and reheat all cooked-then-refrigerated leftovers to at least an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
  • Eat cooked food promptly and refrigerate leftovers within two hours after cooking. (Discard any turkey, stuffing, and gravy left out at room temperature longer than two hours.)
  • Fresh, pre-stuffed turkeys may contain harmful bacteria, and can be unsafe. Frozen, pre-stuffed turkeys are safe, but should be cooked from the frozen state, not thawed.

You can become sick with some types of harmful bacteria and viruses anytime from 30 minutes to six weeks after eating contaminated food. Infants and young children, pregnant women and their unborn offspring, older adults, organ transplant recipients, and others with immunocompromised conditions often become the sickest from food-borne illness.

For more information, visit Contra Costa Health Services Web site at or call 1-888-959-9911 or 211.

Lee is assistant director of Contra Costa Environmental Health Services.

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