Avian Influenza or Bird Flu is caused by a highly pathogenic influenza virus H5N1. It is currently affecting ten countries in Asia and has already resulted in mass deaths and destruction of chickens. Infected chickens can transmit the virus to humans leading to severe disease with high mortality.
In Asia, there has been 108 cases of Avian Influenza in humans of which 58 already died. The bulk of cases come from Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. Most cases of human infections were the result of:
direct contact with infected live or dead poultry
inhalation of infected dust, or
contact with contaminated surfaces
While most strains of Avian Influenza virus are found in respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts of infected birds, the H5N1 strain spreads virtually to all parts of the bird including the meat.
To address the growing consumer concern on the safety of poultry food products, WHO International Food Safety Authorities Network - Information Note No. 7 summarized the food safety implications of the H5N1 Avian Influenza Outbreak:
Conventional Cooking ( temperatures at or above 70C in all parts of the food item) will inactivate the H5N1 virus. Properly cooked poultry is therefore safe to consume.
The H5N1 virus, if present in poultry meat, is not killed by refrigeration or freezing.
Home slaughtering and preparation of sick or dead poultry for food is a hazardous practice and must be stopped.
Eggs can contain H5N1 virus both on the shell and the whites and yolks.
Eggs from areas with H5N1 outbreaks in poultry should not be consumed raw or partially-cooked (runny yolk); uncooked eggs should not be used in foods that will not be cooked, baked or heat-treated in other ways.
There is no epidemiological evidence to indicate that people have been infected with the H5N1 virus following consumption of properly-cooked poultry or eggs.
The greater risk of exposure to the virus is through the handling and slaughter of live infected poultry. Good hygiene practices are essential during slaughter and post-slaughter handling to prevent exposure via raw poultry meat or cross-contamination from poultry to other foods, food preparation surfaces or equipment.
A second and even greater concern is the risk that the virus - given its characterestic high propensity to mutate or re-combine, will change into a form that is highly infectious to humans and will spread easily from person to person. Such a change will mark the start of an influenza pandemic.
The possibility of a pandemic arise each time close contacts between humans and infected birds occur. To reduce this possibility, human practices in food handling is of utmost importance as well as control of the disease at its source.
Avian Flu Management Plan from PAL Inflight Service Committee
The management plan was prompted by:
The growing concern against eating poultry dishes onboard the aircraft especially on areas currently experiencing an outbreak of the Avian influenza
Information advisories from the World Health Organization and the Philippines' Department of Health as well as the
Contingency measures already started by airlines and caterers of the industry.
The Inflight Service Committee of PAL outlined a management plan to handle the effects of the Avian Flu situation to the current inflight meal service through the following steps:
Assess the risk category of each PAL route based on the alert level of Avian Influenza in the area.
Lay out corresponding action plans depending on the risk assessment of each route.
Update regularly risk assessment level of each route and issue corresponding instructions.