Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Feds issue kitchen guidelines for halting avian flu

It almost went unnoticed, but the federal government issued guidelines today for protecting your employees from exposure to the avian flu, the viral infection that health experts characterize as one of the direst potential health threats the U.S. has ever faced.

In a comprehensive but undetailed plan released yesterday by President Bush, foodhandlers were one of only five types of workers for whom security measures were suggested. That dubious distinction put restaurant kitchen staffers in the same high-risk category as lab workers, farm and ranch hands, emergency-room personnel, and flight attendants.

The guidelines were posed specifically for “foodhandlers,” not kitchen workers. The label could just as easily apply to people working in food-processing plants.

But the guidelines underscore the potential vulnerability of back-of-the-house staffers. In the broadest of terms, the recommendations called for careful handling of raw poultry, eggs, and egg products, all of which could contain the virus. The advisory also noted that the virus is destroyed in poultry cooked at a temperature of at least 180 degrees.

As we noted here three weeks ago, the U.S. and the rest of the world is bracing for the possibility that avian flu, a bird-based disease that has thus far jumped to only a few hundred humans, could morph into an illness transferable from person to person. If that happens, a pandemic surpassing the flu outbreak of the early 20th Century could erupt. As President Bush noted in releasing his defensive strategy, some 500,000 Americans died during that plague. Death projections for an avian pandemic have run as high as 1.9 million in the U.S. alone.

“At this moment, there is no pandemic influenza in the United States or the world,” President Bush said this morning at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. “But if history is our guide, there is reason to be concerned.”

A wealth of information about the disease and the defenses against it is posted on a site created by the White House, http://www.pandemicflu.com/.

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