Maybe these aren’t mysteries but food science problems that will be quickly solved like all the others.

Or not.

The Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) is a highly contagious disease and often deadly in poultry and now other animals.  

It is all leaving behind the feeling of mystery.

In the recent week, it has brought dead cats and mammal-to-mammal transmissions along with reports of the danger of raw milk consumption.

For example, Michigan public health officials have warned the public that unpasteurized, raw milk can harbor the virus. And, the New York Department of Agriculture told consumers that raw milk does not have the protection pasteurized milk has. 

The pasteurization process involves heating milk to a specific temperature for a specific time. This process kills the bacteria responsible for diseases like campylobacter, listeriosis (listeria), salmonellosis (salmonella), typhoid fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria, brucellosis, and more. 

Pasteurization is an internationally recognized means of preventing food-borne illness outbreaks.

More troubling is the recent journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. Reports from  Iowa, Texas, and Kansas found that the cats had H5N1 in their lungs, brains, hearts, and eyes. 

The findings are similar to those of cats experimentally infected with H5N1, aka highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAI). But, on the Texas dairy farm, they present an ominous warning of the potential for transmission of this dangerous and evolving virus.

Thomas Gremillion of the Consumer Federation of America nailed the fear Thursday, writing for Food Safety News this way: “Epidemiologists have long raised concerns that a ‘bird flu’ variant may adapt to infect humans and cause another pandemic.”

All of these factors caused the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to go public in May, warning people drinking raw, unpasteurized milk are at risk for potentially contracting bird flu, 

The warning contains three elements.

  • People drinking raw milk are at risk of contracting avian influenza
  • Testing has found high viral loads in the milk of sick dairy cows
  • Experts think the bird flu is passing between cows through their milk

FDA’s Formal Warning
The FDA is announcing additional results from their national commercial milk sampling study in coordination with USDA. 

The study includes 297 total retail dairy samples. New preliminary results of egg inoculation tests on a second set of 201 quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR)-positive retail dairy samples, including cottage cheese sour cream and fluid milk, show that pasteurization effectively inactivates HPAI.

This additional preliminary testing did not detect any live, infectious virus. In addition to preliminary results released late last week on an initial set of 96 retail milk samples, these results reaffirm the assessment that the commercial, pasteurized milk supply is safe.

To ensure the safety of milk-derived products for our youngest populations, the FDA also tested samples of retail powdered infant formula and powdered milk products marketed as toddler formula. All qPCR results of formula testing were negative, indicating no detection of HPAI viral fragments or virus in powdered formula products so no further testing was required for these samples. 

The FDA is continuing to identify additional products that may be tested. The FDA also continues to test samples of pooled raw milk routed to pasteurization and processing for commercial use. This will be used to characterize potential virus levels that pasteurization may encounter and inform studies to validate pasteurization further. 

As this situation evolves, the FDA will continue to consider all ongoing scientific research related to the effectiveness of pasteurization for HPAI in bovine milk. The agency will also continue surveillance of milk production, processing and pasteurization to help ensure the safety of the milk supply. State partners are integral to this process, and the FDA continually works with them.

The FDA continues to advise strongly against the consumption of raw milk and recommends that the industry does not sell raw milk or raw milk products.

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