USDA says it is testing beef for H5N1 bird flu virus

Food safety officials say they are testing beef, including ground beef from grocery stores, for the presence of the H5N1 bird flu virus that’s spreading in dairy cattle.

The United States Department of Agriculture said on Monday that it is conducting three separate beef safety studies. The agency is sampling ground beef purchased at grocery stores in states where dairy cattle have tested positive for the H5N1 avian influenza virus. It is also taking samples of muscle tissue from sick cows that have been culled from their herd.

Finally, they’re conducting cooking studies, which will inoculate ground beef with a “virus surrogate” and cook it to different temperatures to see how much virus is killed under each heat setting.

The move comes as one country, Colombia, placed restrictions on beef and beef products coming from US states where dairy herds have tested positive for avian influenza.

The US Beef Export Foundation said the restrictions “have no scientific basis.” The US is the largest supplier of beef to Colombia, accounting for about $40 million last year, the foundation said.

The USDA is testing beef with polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, testing, a highly sensitive lab test that can pick up even traces of inert genetic material from the virus, if any is present. Any positive samples will be further evaluated for live virus, USDA said.

“USDA is confident that the meat supply is safe. USDA has a rigorous meat inspection process” and “multiple safeguards in place to protect consumers,” the agency said in a statement sent to media outlets on Monday.

“We recommend consumers properly handle raw meats and cook to a safe internal temperature,” which kills bacteria and viruses in meat, the agency added.

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