Amid the Spread of Avian Influenza, Is It Safe to Eat Poultry and Poultry Products?



Avian influenza is caused by influenza A viruses and is mainly transmitted between poultry and birds. So far, the main route of human infections with avian influenza is through direct contact with infected poultry and wild birds or surfaces and objects contaminated with their faeces. The poultry trade which has close contact with infected poultry is the most susceptible to avian influenza. According to available data, the viruses cannot be effectively transmitted “from poultry to human” or “from human to human”. Moreover, there is no evidence that avian influenza can be transmitted through food as stated in epidemiological findings. So, as long as poultry meat, eggs and poultry products are cooked thoroughly before consumption, the public need not be overly worried.


Since the risk of zoonotic infection with avian influenza is low, why is there the need for culling infected poultry?

After invading the host, the viruses become adapted to the host species or acquire some new genes over time for genetic recombination, which may alter their gene order. Such mutation may evolve higher or lower virulence and contagiousness, increasing the risk of viral transmission between humans. Therefore, euthanasia of infected poultry and birds can effectively break the chain of viral transmission in their populations and reduce the potential risk of human infection.


How to get hold of information about avian influenza outbreaks worldwide?

Currently, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Health Organization (WHO) monitor the confirmed cases of avian influenza in animals and humans respectively. OIE offers information on avian influenza through the World Animal Health Information System (WAHIS), which covers the countries and cities with outbreaks, names of virus strains, species of infected animals, follow-ups and corrective measures adopted, etc. Through real-time information sharing about outbreaks of avian influenza, the authorities of different places are able to take sensible response measures in a timely manner to protect the health and safety of the public.


How does the government ensure the safety of poultry food products supplied to Macao?

Most of the chilled chickens sold in Macao come from Mainland China. All poultry supplied to Macao are subject to strict inspection and the regulatory authorities monitor and supervise the entire production and processing process. Only those that have passed the routine testing and health inspection would be issued with a health certificate and exported to Macao. In addition, the Municipal Affairs Bureau (IAM) maintains close communication and cooperation with relevant Mainland authorities to timely review the measures and contingency plans in place for prevention and control of avian influenza.


After the poultry-derived food products are imported into Macao, their importers must declare them to the competent authorities, subject them to mandatory inspection, and submit the respective health certificates issued by competent authorities of the places of origin to ensure the products have been under regulatory control in their places of origin. At retail level, establishments selling chilled chickens must apply for a license and are subject to the supervision of IAM which performs regular inspections and random sampling to ensure the quality, hygiene and safety of the products.


Advice for the trade:

  1. Select the source of poultry with care, pay attention to the development of avian influenza epidemics worldwide and the measures taken by different regions to strengthen the prevention and control of avian influenza outbreaks;
  2. Import fresh and live food, and animal-derived food products into Macao through legal channels. Make a declaration to competent authorities in advance and schedule an appointment for mandatory health inspection. It is also necessary to submit the official health certificates issued by competent authorities of the places of origin;
  3. Do not supply or sell food of unknown origin.


Advice for the public:

  1. Buy poultry products from reputable and reliable stores in good hygiene condition;
  2. Raw poultry meat and ready-to-eat food must be stored separately. Store them separately in impervious containers covered with lids or cling wrap. Always store raw food below cooked food in the refrigerator;
  3. Use two different sets of knives and cutting boards to handle raw and cooked food separately;
  4. Observe personal hygiene and never touch your mouth, nose and eyes when handling chilled poultry, poultry products and eggs. Always wash hands thoroughly with liquid soap and running water after handling them;
  5. Cook eggs and poultry thoroughly. For example, eggs should be cooked until the white and yolk are firm. Poultry should be cooked thoroughly without pinkish juice oozing out from the meat and from inside of bones. Otherwise they should be cooked again till fully cooked.