Effect Measure

The problem of H5N1 contaminated food keeps coming up (see here and here). First it was, don’t worry, stomach acid will kill it. Then it was, don’t worry, you can’t be infected through the intestinal tract. Then it was, don’t worry, proper cooking kills the virus. The last of these is correct but isn’t a reason not to worry. Somebody has to “properly cook” the food, so during preparation and food handling there is a risk of contact with possibly infectious material. Then there is “ready-to-eat” foods (like from the deli) which aren’t cooked. Then there is contamination of animal foods that are consumed by livestock or pets without cooking. So the answers to the other questions, about stomach acid and the ability to be infected via ingestion, are important. So far we don’t have definitive answers to them.

The news from the poultry industry and the US FDA continues to be upbeat, but there isn’t quite as much denial as earlier. The virus is teaching us how much we have to learn:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will study the potential for bird flu to contaminate prepared foods, including fish, animal feed and poultry.

The agency will compile a list of foods and dietary supplements at risk of contamination with avian influenza because they contain meat from poultry, come from animals that live near birds or might have been in contact with infected humans, according to a document posted today on the FDA Web site.

Proper cooking of chicken and other poultry kills H5N1, the deadly bird virus that has spread to some people, said the agency, based in Rockville, Maryland. Scientists say the virus might set off a deadly pandemic among humans. “Ready-to-eat” foods that require little or no cooking might be contaminated with virus by workers who have bird flu, exposing people who consume the foods. (John Laurman, Bloomberg)

It might seem obvious to you, as a consumer, why we want to know the answer to these questions. But the FDA phrases it differently — and revealingly:

“We know the effect that avian influenza has had on the public perception of food in Europe where there have been outbreaks,” said Boris Lushniak, the FDA assistant commissioner who wrote the plan, in a telephone interview today. “We want food and feed safety issues to be answered, in case we were to have avian influenza in this country.”

They want the food safety issues to be answered because – – – if bird flu comes it will affect public perception of food? Yes, I’d way it would, especially poultry. But I want to know the answers to these questions because I want to know if I’ll get sick from H5N1 contaminated food. Once you bring public perception into it you make me nervous that you won’t tell me everything “because you don’t want to scare me.”

That scares me.


  1. #1 lee
    March 15, 2007

    Thank You for posting this…when I read this news story, my first thought was there goes the food chain. I think we have reason to show great concern…we are being advised to store enough food for 2 weeks(althou in my own opion for Avian Flu outbreak that is not enough) but now we have to be concerned about WHAT we store as it might already be contaminated with H5N1…so for those of you putting off on storing up on food for an emergency, best you start now as you never know what might happen to the already delicate food chain.

  2. #2 speedwell
    March 15, 2007

    We are vegetarians and have put by a good 3-month supply of a great variety of decent storage food (much more than the grain-and-beans survivalist special). If you’re concerned about chicken or other meats, please consider storing TVP granules, which can be stored dry indefinitely, reconstituted quickly in boiling water or flavoring broth, and cooked further if you like. Write me if you’re interested and want some tips on where to buy, how much to buy, etc.

  3. #3 nsthesia
    March 15, 2007


    This post makes me wonder about the potential increase in food-borne infection as a result of gastric hypochlorhydria. It seems that almost every patient I see over the age of 40 is either on a proton pump inhibitor or an H2-blocker…or BOTH! (Even MY esophagus needs one after reading some of your more left-leaning political commentaries :))

    Anyway…If it IS found that HPAI could be acquired via the ingestion of contaminated food, I wonder if all those who are gastric acid suppression-dependent, would be at an increased risk?

    I hope someone thinks about this variable. But, I suppose something as inane as whether a country’s population could afford treatment with PPIs/H2 blockers could be a great equalizer. Could it be an internal Achille’s heel?

  4. #4 revere
    March 15, 2007

    nsthesia: I’ve thought about this quite a lot, since I am achlorhydric thanks to Prilosec. It turns out the virus can even make it through pH .9, but my stomach pH isn’t anywhere near that. So it’s a point to consider. Another is where the viral receptors are. I don’t know if anyone has looked in the human GI tract.

  5. #5 M. Randolph Kruger
    March 15, 2007

    N-If thats the case and it is there are going to be one hell of a lot fewer Americans. Ever read how many people are on Prilosec or the other chronic acid blockers in this country. Kind of makes you wonder what we did before the 1980’s.

    I cut out all the pop in my diet in 93 and lost 43 pounds in six months and the acid reflux to boot. I drink nothing but water now. Then Revere knocked us up against the head about the Benzine in Benzoate of Soda two months ago. If can get in thru PH 9, does it mean that a 3 it might not..?

    We need a study. Calling Dr. Webster, volunteers to ingest BF contaminated milk and other foods can be found at EM. As for the veggie types, saw something yesterday that indicated that endemically infected birds might be foraging in fields and that the natural contamination factors being equal we might get hit that way. And you think Salmonella is bad……..

  6. #6 GaudiaRay
    March 15, 2007

    The lies (it’s called fraud by omission, to be technical about it) issued by the federal agencies of the federal government are not just legion. Most we ignore as they’re not within our areas of interest.

    The loss of trust is stupendous and has profound consequences to the detriment of the body politic. We, the citizenry, lose, and lose repeatedly.

    For the CDC to say prep for 2 weeks, when US Embassies are prepping for 3 months is incredulous.

    For Bernanke to say that the subprime mortgage meltdown is contained is beyond comprehension.

    There are only 2 choices as I see it; either we who think we know challenge the government officials, or we ignore their conclusions and gather and weigh the facts on our own.

    Most try to change the system. I’ve abandoned the effort and look to the judge who I see in my own mirror. He knows what’s best for me and he knows the probable outcome.

    Yesterday, one of the proven smartest men who lived in the USA, Jim Rogers, Soros’ partner, said there will be a real estate decline of 40-50% in the US and he’s moving to “Asia”.

    There’s a lesson there. Extrapolating, the food chain risk of H5N1 infection, which at this time equals high probability of death, means that either one prepares for food sources outside of institutional or one accepts the risk of infection.

    The federal government has not told the truth so many times, the reasonable response is to see the statement as smoke, as you do, Revere, conclude there’s a fire, and act proactively to avoid getting burned.

    Does anyone think that with a regime change the midlevel bureaucrats will speak any more forthrightly?

    As a heads up, sacks of food are dirt cheap; for under a thousand US dollars, one can own enough food to avoid death by handling H5N1 infected meat and containers for easily one year for one person. That’s $1000 per human to stay away from the food and therefore eliminate that risk of premature mortality.

  7. #7 bar
    March 15, 2007

    Bureaucrats are secretive and detest change. It’s part of the job description. We need a better system of managing bureaucracies. (And I don’t mean the Democrats)

  8. #8 caia
    March 15, 2007

    Speedwell, if you have a source (online or off) for non-GMO soy TVP, I’d like to know about it. A huge majority of the soy grown in the U.S. is genetically modified, and I haven’t seen any TVP that states it isn’t.

    Having read a paper linked in a comment here, which showed huge increases in mortality in baby mice whose mothers were fed GM soy vs regular soy? I’ll take my chances with canned chicken (or turkey, or beans) before conventional TVP.

  9. #9 Kris
    March 16, 2007

    OK, a three-month supply of food is a good start — but what about water? Are you set up to store ~3 gal. of drinkable water/day /person for three months? That’s about 270 gal./person; pets additional. Forget the 1-gal/day/person recommendation; that is just the bare minimum. You may want to wash some things [dishes, clothes, yourselves] sometime. Are you prepared to live off the grid in case utilities go down? Do you know how to do that?

  10. #10 Greg
    March 16, 2007

    Are you prepared to be obviously the only one on your block with any food?

  11. #11 SoCal
    March 18, 2007

    Back to the earlier issue of whether H5N1 survives in the human intestinal tract: Some of the human cases have had diarrhea, indicating likely infection of the GI tract.

    And a question: If you knew that cholera could be alive on your store-bought chicken, would you bring it home to your children, comfortable because you knew that
    “proper handling and thorough cooking” would kill it?