Beef steak on a grill.Share on Pinterest
As bird flu spreads among cattle and poultry, is it safe to eat beef and chicken? Guido Mieth/Getty Images
  • Avian influenza (bird flu) has been detected in cattle and chickens in the U.S.
  • However, experts say the risk that humans will contract the virus from animals is low.
  • People are also unlikely to contract the virus from eating meat, dairy, or eggs.
  • Samples of ground beef sold at grocery stores were collected and tested for bird flu by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. All samples tested negative for the virus.

On April 26, 2024, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that there is an ongoing outbreak of bird flu, also known as “avian influenza.”

The A(H5N1) virus that causes bird flu has been detected in 34 herds of cattle across nine states, including Idaho, New Mexico, Texas, South Dakota, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina, and, most recently, Colorado.

However, according to reports published in the journal Nature, preliminary analysis of genomic data suggests that a strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza may have been silently spreading in U.S. cattle for months earlier than previously believed, with the virus likely jumping from an infected bird into a cow around late December 2023 or early January this year.

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it had collected 30 samples of ground beef sold at grocery stores for testing in states where outbreaks of bird flu in dairy cows had occurred. On Wednesday, they announced all the samples tested were negative for the H5N1 bird flu virus.

They remain confident that the meat supply is safe and does not pose a risk to humans.

The FDA has also tested samples of additional products to ensure safety. These included sour cream, cottage cheese, retail powdered infant formula, and powdered milk products marketed as toddler formula.

On Tuesday, they announced that all samples had also tested negative for the virus.

Dr. Daisy May — a veterinary surgeon and pet care writer for All About Parrots — said that while it’s natural to be concerned about the possibility of bird flu spreading to humans, the bottom line is that the virus is highly contagious among birds but not in people.

“[T]he likelihood of sustained human-to-human transmission remains extremely low with proper precautions,” she said.

In fact, the CDC has stated that only one human case has been confirmed after exposure to dairy cows that were likely infected with the virus. This was reported to the agency by the state of Texas on April 1 of this year.

Previously, on April 28, 2022, the CDC announced that a person in Colorado had contracted bird flu after being directly exposed to infected poultry.

In both cases of human infection, however, the CDC said symptoms were mild, and the patients recovered quickly.

May explained that in the cases where we’ve seen people contract bird flu, it’s been from direct exposure to infected birds, their droppings, or contaminated coop areas — not person to person.

The CDC advises that people can protect themselves from bird flu by avoiding exposure to sick or dead animals — both wild and domestic — including their carcasses, raw milk, feces, litter, or any other materials that have been contaminated by them.

You’re not likely to contract bird flu from eating beef or chicken, according to Dan Gallagher, a Registered Dietitian with Aegle Nutrition.

“The chances of getting sick from eating chicken or beef, even with the bird flu outbreak, are still incredibly low,” he noted.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a Food Safety and Inspection Service inspection program to ensure that sick animals do not enter the food supply.

Gallagher said, “If you’re worried about potential infection, make sure you’re cooking your meat thoroughly and you’ll have no problems.”

Additionally, May said that when it comes to eggs, you should be fine if you cook them completely and do not leave them runny.

“The virus is highly vulnerable to heat, and standard cooking temperatures are more than sufficient to kill it off entirely,” she said.

As far as milk and dairy products, pasteurization will kill any bird flu virus that might be present.

While it has been reported by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that commercially available milk tested positive for bird flu in 1 out of 5 samples tested, experts say this is not necessarily cause for concern.

The method used to test the milk — quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) — detects the virus’s genetic material. This means it cannot be used to determine whether any live virus is present in the sample.

In fact, when the scientists did further testing, they found that there was no live virus present, confirming that pasteurization did indeed do its job.

However, May says you should be cautious when it comes to raw milk from small farms or private sellers since it has not been treated in this way.

To safely prepare meats, poultry, and eggs, the USDA advises the following:

  • Wash your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds both before and after handling raw poultry and eggs.
  • Keep raw poultry and eggs away from other food.
  • After cutting meat, wash your cutting board, knife, and countertop with hot, soapy water.
  • Use 1 tablespoon bleach diluted in 1 gallon of water to sanitize your cutting board.
  • Use a food thermometer during cooking to ensure an internal temperature of 165 °F (73.9 °C) for poultry and 145 °F (62.8 °C) for beef.

There is an ongoing bird flu outbreak in the United States. The virus has been detected in both cows and chickens.

Experts say, however, that the risk to humans is low, especially if they use proper precautions when working directly with animals.

Also, while it is highly contagious in animal populations, it does not pass from person to person.

Pasteurized milk is safe to consume, but you should be wary of raw milk.

The risk of contracting bird flu from eating beef, poultry, and eggs is also very low due to the USDA’s inspection process.

Proper cooking and handling of beef, poultry, and eggs will also help ensure that these foods are safe to eat.