A shopper checks for broken eggs in a supermarket in New York on June 3, amid the worst outbreak of bird flu in the U.S. (Photo: Richard Levine/Corbis)
If you’ve bought eggs sometime in the past week, you probably noticed something surprising: Prices have shot up. And it’s all due to the avian flu outbreak.
The average price per dozen eggs has nearly doubled since last month, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That could eventually affect the prices of restaurant and packaged foods made with eggs, including breakfast sandwiches, breads, pastas, salad dressings, and cakes. And while some grocery chains and food suppliers have raised prices, others — such as H-E-B, with 350 supermarkets across the country — are limiting purchases of eggs.
The USDA reports that more than 46 million birds in the U.S. have been affected by avian flu, and the outbreak has killed 20 million hens that lay eggs. But while the outbreak is hitting our wallets, should we be nervous about contracting avian flu from the eggs we actually can buy?
Probably not, says Michael Doyle, PhD, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia. “Generally, it has to mutate to a degree in order to be able to infect humans,” he tells Yahoo Health, and “that hasn’t happened yet.”
Of course, he says, that doesn’t mean that it can’t. He says the people who would be most likely to contract avian flu would be those who live and work around chickens or eat undercooked or raw meat, although the disease hasn’t yet shown up in the chickens that we eat. Health officials are taking precautionary measures for workers who clean out the houses where infected chickens lived, giving them Tamiflu to try to shut down any potential human infection.
Luckily, the current strain of the flu shouldn’t affect your health. “Even if your eggs had some avian influenza virus on them, it’s not likely to make you sick,” says Doyle, adding that people should be concerned about contracting salmonella from their eggs.
Steven Gordon, MD, chair of the infectious disease department at the Cleveland Clinic, says it’s important to fully cook your eggs — whether there is an avian flu outbreak or not. “Raw eggs are always a risk because of the potential pathogens,” he tells Yahoo Health. “Don’t eat your eggs raw.”
Doyle adds that you can practically wipe out your odds of contracting avian flu from eggs if you also wash your hands properly after handling raw eggs and avoid foods that contain raw eggs, like Caesar salad dressing.
“If we follow the same practices as we do with preventing salmonella, we pretty well have it covered,” he says.
Unfortunately, Doyle doesn’t expect the egg shortage to go away anytime soon. “It takes many months to get from a baby chick to a egg-laying hen,” he says. “It’s going to take a while to get egg production back to what we’re used to.”
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