SAPA's myths and facts about avian flu and egg safety

 Dr Abongile Balarane; from South African Poultry Association (SAPA) and Monique Piderit; registered dietitian from Nutritional Solutions. 

The state of poultry in SA

The South African Poultry Industry has unfortunately been hit by H5N1 and H7N6 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI). Provinces affected by H5N1 are Western Cape and Kwa Zulu Natal.  State, Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, and North West were hit by the H7N6 strain. All affected farms have been immediately placed under quarantine and no live chickens and eggs are allowed to be removed from the farm. Chickens infected with HPAI get sick fairly quickly and die. Generally, the first signs of sick animals include a drop in production, meaning that sick chickens will produce very few (if any) eggs. This together with the added mitigation of placing farms under quarantine, means no eggs from these infected farms will make their way to the shelves. 

Myth: Avoid eating eggs during the avian flu outbreak 

Fact: The avian flu outbreak understandably creates concerns among consumers about the safety of eating eggs at this time. It’s good to know that egg-loving South Africans can rest assured that eating properly cooked eggs (and chicken too) does not pose a risk of infecting humans with the avian flu. This is because heat effectively destroys this virus. Added to this, we know that since this virus has been in South Africa, there are no reported cases of the spread of this virus from chicken meat or eggs to humans. 

Of course, eating raw eggs may put you at risk of food-borne illness, this is why it is important to always cook your eggs properly before eating. Cooking can even improve the absorption of some nutrients in the egg, like protein, which is important for immunity and muscle building. 

 Myth: The eggs on our supermarket and grocers shelves are not safe to eat. 

Fact: Consumers can also rest assured that any eggs and poultry that they may find at their local grocers are safe to eat. There are many strict guidelines for safety measures in an outbreak like this where we can with certainty be comfortable that the eggs that we are sold are safe to eat. In fact, avoiding eggs can do more harm than good for our health as eggs are a cost-effective and nutritious food for any time of the day. 

The truth is that eggs have great nutritional benefits to our diets, and these exaggerated claims to avoid eating eggs can do more harm than good for our nations’ health. Eggs pack a nutrient punch – from protein to 13 important nutrients to heart-healthy fats, making eggs a great choice for all ages. And in tough economic times, eggs generally remain a budget-friendly protein choice for South Africans. Traditionally, eggs have a firm place on the breakfast table, but eggs can be a convenient, cost-effective and nutritious food for any time of the day. Think boiled eggs on toast or crackers as a snack, or a quick-and-easy omelette at lunchtime. 

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