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Largest U.S. Egg Producer Hit With Bird Flu Outbreak—Is Your Dairy Safe?

The CDC and USDA have guidelines about dairy and poultry products.

Earlier this week, news broke that the first human case of avian influenza A(H5N1)—commonly known as bird flu—had been detected in Texas, the second since an infection was reported in Colorado in 2022. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) confirmed that the patient in Texas was in direct contact with dairy cattle thought to be infected with bird flu, but stressed that it's rare for the disease to spread from one human to another. While this may have quelled initial fears, different concerns have since arisen.

According to an April 2 press release from Cal-Maine Foods, the largest egg producer in the U.S., chickens at one of its facilities in Parmer County, Texas, have tested positive for bird flu. Read on to find out what you need to know about the situation, and if the outbreak affects your dairy products.

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Cal-Maine Foods said 3.6 percent of its flock was infected.

free range chickens
Snowboy / Shutterstock

In Cal-Maine Foods' press release, the company revealed that the bird flu situation resulted in the "depopulation" of approximately 1.6 million laying hens and 337,000 pullets (young hens less than a year old), or 3.6 percent of its total flock. Production at the facility has also stopped temporarily, in line with protocols set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

"Cal-Maine Foods is working to secure production from other facilities to minimize disruption to its customers," the company wrote, noting that while it has "robust biosecurity systems" in place, "no farm is immune" to bird flu.

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Mammals are also getting sick with bird flu.

Two Cows in a field

Per the CDC's Current Situation Summary for H5N1 Bird Flu, the virus is widespread in wild birds, with "sporadic outbreaks" in both poultry flocks and mammals.

A goat in Minnesota was the first mammal infected with bird flu after living with infected chickens last month. And according to an April 2 press release from the USDA, bird flu was also detected in seven dairy herds in Texas, two in Kansas, and individual herds in Idaho, Michigan, and New Mexico.

Presumptive positive test results from other herds are being confirmed via National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) testing. In an earlier press release, the USDA noted that "transmissions between cattle cannot be ruled out" due to the spread of symptoms among cows.

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Health officials say that dairy products are still safe to eat.

young woman shopping for groceries in dairy case

While you may be worried about how this affects your eggs and other dairy products, health officials said there's no immediate cause for concern.

The CDC currently considers the human health risk to the public from these viruses to be "low," and according to the USDA, the virus "cannot be transmitted through safely handled and properly cooked eggs."

In the April 2 USDA press release, officials also stated that there is "no concern about the safety of the commercial milk supply" thanks to pasteurization policies.

"Dairies are required to send only milk from healthy animals into processing for human consumption; milk from impacted animals is being diverted or destroyed so that it does not enter the human food supply," the release reads. "In addition, pasteurization has continually proven to inactivate bacteria and viruses, like influenza, in milk. Pasteurization is required for any milk entering interstate commerce for human consumption."

You should still take some precautions.

cooking eggs in a frying pan
Dmitry Galaganov / Shutterstock

Health agencies have stressed the need to avoid direct contact with wild birds or domestic birds that look sick or have died. For most of us, that's not an issue, but you can take daily precautions by being mindful when preparing your food.

While it's safe to eat dairy products, the CDC and USDA say to ensure they are properly handled and cooked.

"Properly handling and cooking poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165˚F kills bacteria and viruses, including bird flu viruses," the CDC states on its bird flu prevention and treatment page. "People should handle raw poultry hygienically and cook all poultry and poultry products (including eggs) all the way before eating. Eating uncooked or undercooked poultry can make you sick."

An April 1 health alert from the Texas DSHS also advised against consuming raw milk.

"Pasteurization is the process of heating milk to a high enough temperature for enough time to kill harmful germs in the milk, including all kinds of flu viruses," the alert reads. "Milk sold in stores is required to be pasteurized and is safe to drink."

Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.

Abby Reinhard
Abby Reinhard is a Senior Editor at Best Life, covering daily news and keeping readers up to date on the latest style advice, travel destinations, and Hollywood happenings. Read more
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