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New USDA tests with substitute for H5N1 bird flu virus remind us why eating rare burgers may still be risky

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New USDA experiments with a virus replacement for bird flu have found reduced levels of live virus in rare hamburgers.


Laboratory tests conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture did not detect any H5N1 bird flu viruses in raw beef, but they serve as a reminder why eating rare burgers can be risky.

As part of a series of tests conducted to verify safe food handling advice following the detection of the H5N1 avian influenza virus in dairy cattle, the USDA recently mixed a surrogate virus into ground beef and then cooked patties at different times and temperatures.

Researchers found no viruses in hamburgers cooked to 145 degrees, about the temperature of a medium hamburger, or in well-done hamburgers cooked to 160 degrees. They did, however, find live virus in patties cooked to 120 degrees or rare, although the virus was present “at very, very reduced levels,” said Eric Deeble, acting senior adviser for highly pathogenic avian influenza at the USDA.

It’s still unclear whether this small amount of virus could make someone sick.

The USDA already advises consumers to cook ground beef to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, measured with a food thermometer, to avoid infections from bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli, it noted.

“I don’t think anyone should change already recommended safe food handling or cooking practices,” Deeble said.

The USDA also announced $22 million in new government investments to protect animal health. Most of the funding will go to the Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program and a network of state laboratories called the National Animal Health Laboratory Network.

“Some labs have equipment that needs to be updated or upgraded and other people want to increase the capacity of the labs they operate. And so this funding is going to help support these types of projects,” Deeble said Thursday.

Between May 6 and 12, the national laboratory network processed 1,100 tests for H5N1 avian influenza in cattle, and 278 of them were presumptive positive, Deeble said. He cautioned that because multiple samples may be taken from the same animal or tests may be pooled together, the number of tests does not reflect the number of animals tested or the number of those that are positive. Approximately 600 tests were conducted in accordance with the new USDA order, which requires dairy cattle moving interstate to be tested. Another 450 tests were carried out on animals showing symptoms.

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The USDA said it received a positive response to its offer last week to financially compensate producers who take steps to protect their herds and workers from further spread of the virus. However, the fillable forms are not ready for farmers to complete, so no one has been enrolled in the program. She hopes to have the documents ready by the middle of next week, Deeble said.

Dr. Nirav Shah, principal deputy director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the agency has been unable to find farmworkers willing to participate in studies on flu transmission poultry on dairy farms in exchange for 75 dollars.

“We do not lose hope. We are in constant conversation with a number of states. We are getting closer, but so far nothing crosses the finish line,” Shah said.

News Source : amp.cnn.com
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