Duren's Clinic Pharmacy Logo

Get Healthy!

USDA Testing Beef Amid Bird Flu Outbreak in Dairy Cows
  • Posted April 30, 2024

USDA Testing Beef Amid Bird Flu Outbreak in Dairy Cows

As bird flu continues to spread among dairy cows, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Monday it is now testing ground beef for any presence of the virus.

The agency said it is sampling ground beef bought in grocery stores in states where dairy cattle have tested positive for the virus, also known as H5N1, CNN reported. Officials are also testing samples of muscle tissue from sick cows that have been culled from their herd.

Last but not least, the USDA is injecting a “virus surrogate” into ground beef and then cooking it at different temperatures, to see how much virus is killed under each heat setting.

Still, the agency stressed this testing does not mean the beef supply isn't safe.

“USDA is confident that the meat supply is safe. USDA has a rigorous meat inspection process” and “multiple safeguards in place to protect consumers,” the agency said in a statement, CNN reported.

“We recommend consumers properly handle raw meats and cook to a safe internal temperature,” which kills germs in meat, the agency added.

U.S. health officials are already testing retail milk samples for live bird flu virus, and none has been found in any of the first batch of samples tested, federal health officials said Friday.

Those early findings should reassure the public that the milk sold in stores remains safe, officials added.

In the online update, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said the initial test findings likely mean the pasteurization process is killing the virus.

“These results reaffirm our assessment that the commercial milk supply is safe,” the agency wrote, but testing efforts are continuing.

"The FDA is further assessing retail samples from its study of 297 samples of retail dairy products from 38 states," the agency added. "All samples with a PCR-positive result are going through egg inoculation tests, a gold standard for determining if infectious virus is present."

"These important efforts are ongoing, and we are committed to sharing additional testing results as soon as possible," the FDA added.

FDA officials also tested infant and toddler formulas, which used powdered milk, and did not find any evidence of the virus, the agency noted.

The story is different when it comes to viral fragments of bird flu: genetic bits of the virus have been discovered in roughly 20% of retail milk samples tested in a national survey, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said last week.

That earlier finding suggests bird flu has spread far more widely among dairy cows than officials first thought.

Samples from parts of the country that have infected dairy herds were more likely to test positive, the agency noted, and regulators stressed there is no evidence yet that cow milk poses a danger to consumers.

Still, 33 herds across eight states have been confirmed to have been infected with bird flu, also known as H5N1.

“It suggests that there is a whole lot of this virus out there,” Richard Webby, a virologist and influenza expert at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, told the New York Times.

While it is still possible to eradicate bird flu from the nation's dairy farms, Webby noted it is hard to control the outbreak without knowing its full scope.

To that end, the USDA announced last week that it is now requiring mandatory testing of dairy cows moving across state lines. Before that, testing of cows had been voluntary and focused on cows with obvious symptoms of illness.

As of Wednesday, 23 people had been tested for the virus, while 44 people were being monitored after exposure to H5N1, the Times reported. Just one human infection has been reported so far, in a dairy worker in Texas who had direct contact with sick cows. The case was mild.

Still, sustained spread among cows would give the virus more chances to become more transmissible among humans.

Experts believe pasteurization, in which milk is briefly heated, should kill the virus.

“And when you destroy the virus, it's going to release genetic material,” Samuel Alcaine, a microbiologist and food scientist at Cornell University in New York, told the Times.

“It's not surprising” to find them in milk, he added. “It doesn't mean that the milk is not safe.”

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on bird flu.

SOURCES: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, updates, April 25/26, 2024; CNN; New York Times

Health News is provided as a service to Duren's Clinic Pharmacy site users by HealthDay. Duren's Clinic Pharmacy nor its employees, agents, or contractors, review, control, or take responsibility for the content of these articles. Please seek medical advice directly from your pharmacist or physician.
Copyright © 2024 HealthDay All Rights Reserved.