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USDA to Test Retail Ground Beef for Bird Flu Particles

Sampling part of latest efforts to contain outbreaks and assure food safety
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
Retailers in states that have reported bird flu cases in dairy cows may now be subject to ground beef testing by the USDA.

Efforts to check and protect the nation’s food supply continue in the wake of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) cases across the country in multiple species. This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed that the agency’s experts are testing ground beef samples from certain retailers in states where bird flu has been identified in dairy cows, including Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota and Texas. The retail locations have not yet been publicly identified. 

Ground beef is often derived from dairy cattle. According to USDA, PCR tests will be used to analyze the product to gauge the presence of viral particles. 

Also this month, USDA started requiring milk-producing dairy cows to test negative for HPAI before being transported. That followed the discovery of bird flu in dairy cattle in Texas and Kansas. 

While striving to tamp down the spread of the virus, government agencies emphasized the overall safety of the food supply, noting that risks are higher for people exposed to infected animals than those who consume animal-based products. The USDA affirmed that fully cooking beef and pasteurizing milk neutralizes the virus in finished products.

“It is important to remember that thus far, we have not found changes to the virus that would make it more transmissible to humans and between people. While cases among humans in direct contact with infected animals are possible, our partners at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believe that the current risk to the public remains low,” USDA declared in an April 27 statement. 

In a recent news release, the Washington, D.C.-based Meat Institute reiterated that properly prepared beef remains safe to eat. “USDA and CDC are working overtime to understand the spread of the virus and to determine its effects on the health of people and animals,” remarked Julie Anna Potts, the group’s president and CEO. “We encourage USDA and CDC to conduct additional testing and monitoring to continue to ensure properly prepared beef remains safe to eat."

She continued, “We are also calling on USDA and CDC to issue additional, specific guidance for beef processing facilities to ensure USDA inspectors and meat company workers are protected from infection.”

The CDC, for its part, posted on its site, “This is a rapidly changing situation and CDC is committed to providing frequent and timely updates.”

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