(NEXSTAR) – Turkey prices are expected to reach record high prices ahead of Thanksgiving this year, largely due to a nationwide avian flu outbreak. But should you be worried about catching avian flu from your Thanksgiving bird?
Probably not, experts say, but there are ways to ensure your turkey is safe to eat on Thanksgiving.
In February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture began warning of the highly pathogenic avian influenza after the virus was confirmed in a group of commercial turkeys in Dubois County, Indiana; a flock of commercial broiler chickens in Fulton County, Kentucky; and a backyard flock of birds in Fauquier County, Virginia. To prevent the spread of the virus, all 29,000 turkeys at the Indiana location were killed.
The most recent data from the USDA shows HPAI cases have been confirmed in all but four states: Alabama, Hawaii, Louisiana, and West Virginia. Iowa has bared the brunt of the virus’ impact, with more than 15,000,000 birds affected in this outbreak.
As of November 14, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report more than 50.3 million birds have been killed either by the virus or after being exposed to the virus. In the coming days, that total could surpass the record set during the 2015 HPAI outbreak that affected 50.5 million birds.
Though HPAI may make your turkey more expensive this year, it won’t make your turkey inedible.
Any time cases of avian flu are reported among a commercial flock of turkeys, those turkeys have been prevented from entering the food system. Also, avian flu isn’t a foodborne illness, meaning you can’t become infected from eating poultry after it’s been cooked properly, according to Tom Super, the Senior Vice President of Communications for the National Chicken Council.
The risk of infection among humans is low. Those at the greatest risk of infection are those who work with birds or are exposed to them in the wild, the CDC explains. For example, an individual in the United Kingdom tested positive for avian flu late last year after a large number of their domestically kept birds contracted the virus. And a person living in Colorado tested positive for avian flu in April after they were involved in the depopulation of a flock believed to have avian flu.
If you own birds, the CDC suggests multiple precautions to lower any risk of infection, including wearing protective gear and washing your hands, changing your clothes, and avoiding contact with your mouth, nose or eyes after touching the birds.
For those cooking on Thanksgiving, guidance from the CDC says poultry and eggs should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, which will kill bacteria and viruses like bird flu. Properly-handled and cooked poultry, including your costlier Thanksgiving turkey, should therefore be safe to eat.
Speaking of which, the turkey likely won’t be the only expensive item on your Thanksgiving shopping list. The prices of baking goods, bakery items, and produce are also up compared to the same time last year, the latest Labor Department data shows.