Ag Policy Blog

As a Precaution, USDA Testing Ground Beef for H5N1 Virus

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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USDA is now conducting three separate studies on ground beef and the H5N1 virus to test if the virus shows up in a cow's muscle tissue. USDA also will test ground beef in retail stores in states that have had dairy cows test positive for the virus. USDA also will conduct some testing of cooking temperatures that would kill the virus. (DTN file photo)

USDA now is in the initial phase of conducting studies on ground beef to test for signs of the H5N1 virus.

The testing by USDA agencies comes after the Food and Drug Administration reported findings last week of finding genetic fragments of the H5N1 virus roughly 20% of tests conducted in retail milk samples across 38 states.

With commercial dairy products, the milk is pasteurized, killing the virus though the genetic material remains. FDA officials last week said testing has shown the virus shows up heavily in the mammary glands of dairy cows which then leads to high viral loads in milk.

The bird flu virus has been found in 35 dairy herds in nine states after a dairy farm in northeast Colorado was confirmed positive late last week. So far, there have not been any positive tests for H5N1 in beef cattle.

Asked about the ground beef testing, A USDA spokesperson stated, "USDA is confident that the meat supply is safe. USDA has a rigorous meat inspection process, where USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) veterinarians are present at all federal livestock slaughter facilities. FSIS inspects each animal before slaughter, and all cattle carcasses must pass inspection after slaughter and be determined to be fit to enter the human food supply. While we have multiple safeguards in place to protect consumers, we recommend consumers properly handle raw meats and cook to a safe internal temperature. Cooking to a safe internal temperature kills bacteria and viruses in meat."

USDA now is working on three separate studies for beef related to avian influenza in the dairy herd.

-USDA will sample ground beef at retail stores in affected states where dairy cow herds have tested positive for the signs for live virus. The samples will be analyzed by APHIS using polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which indicates whether any viral particles are present.

-Meat inspectors will also sample beef muscle tissue of cull dairy cows condemned at select FSIS-inspected slaughter facilities. Samples will also be sent to APHIS for PCR testing.

-The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) will be conducting a beef cooking study and will use a virus surrogate in ground beef and cook it at different temperatures to determine log-reduction of the virus.

A USDA spokesperson stated that results from the three studies will be shared as they become available.

On Monday, USDA began testing lactating dairy cows that were set for interstate travel or crossing into Canada. Cows that test can travel while those that test positive will remain on their home farms for 30 days and then be retested for the virus.

USDA link for Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart | Food Safety and Inspection Service…

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