Avian Flu and Your Thanksgiving Turkey: What You Need to Know

(NEXSTAR) – Turkey prices are expected to hit record highs before Thanksgiving this year, largely due to a nationwide outbreak of bird flu. But should you worry about getting bird flu from your Thanksgiving bird?

Probably not, experts say, but there are ways to ensure your turkey is safe to eat on Thanksgiving.

In February, the US Department of Agriculture began warning about highly pathogenic avian influenza after the virus was confirmed in a group of commercial turkeys in Dubois County, Indiana; a commercial broiler flock in Fulton County, Kentucky; and a flock of backyard birds in Fauquier County, Virginia. To prevent the spread of the virus, all 29,000 turkeys at the Indiana location were culled.

The most recent data from the USDA shows that HPAI cases have been confirmed in all but four states: Alabama, Hawaii, Louisiana, and West Virginia. Iowa has borne the brunt of the impact of the virus, with more than 15,000,000 birds affected in this outbreak.

As of November 14, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 50.3 million birds have died from the virus or after being exposed to the virus. In the coming days, that total could surpass the record set during the 2015 HPAI outbreak that affected 50.5 million birds.

Although HPAI may make your turkey more expensive this year, it will not make your turkey inedible.

Whenever cases of bird flu are reported among a commercial flock of turkeys, those turkeys are prevented from entering the food system. Also, bird flu is not a foodborne illness, which means you can’t get infected by eating poultry after it’s been cooked properly, according to Tom Super, senior vice president of communications for the National Chicken Council.

The risk of infection between humans is low. Those most at risk of infection are those who work with birds or are exposed to them in the wild, the CDC explains. For example, a person in the UK tested positive for bird flu late last year after large numbers of his domestic birds contracted the virus. And a person living in Colorado tested positive for bird flu in April after being involved in depopulating a herd believed to have bird flu.

If you have birds, the CDC suggests multiple precautions to reduce the risk of infection, including wearing protective gear and washing your hands, changing your clothing, and avoiding contact with your mouth, nose, or eyes after handling birds.

For those cooking on Thanksgiving, CDC guidance says that poultry and eggs should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, which will kill bacteria and viruses like bird flu. Properly cooked and handled poultry, including the most expensive Thanksgiving turkey, should be safe to eat.

Speaking of which, turkey probably isn’t the only expensive item on your Thanksgiving shopping list. Prices for bakery goods, bakery items and farm products also increased compared to the same period last year, the latest data from the Labor Department shows.

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