Avian Flu and Your Thanksgiving Turkey: What You Need to Know

(NEXSTAR) – Turkey’s prices are expected to hit record highs ahead of Thanksgiving this year, largely due to a nationwide outbreak of bird flu. But should you be worried about catching avian flu from your Thanksgiving bird?

Probably not, experts say, but there are ways to ensure your turkey is safe to eat on Thanksgiving.

In February, the US Department of Agriculture began warning about highly pathogenic bird flu after the virus was confirmed in a group of commercial turkeys in Dubois County, Indiana; a flock of commercial broilers in Fulton County, Kentucky; and a flock of birds in the backyard in Fauquier County, Virginia. To prevent the spread of the virus, all 29,000 turkeys at the Indiana site were killed.

The latest data from the USDA shows that HPAI cases have been confirmed in all but four states: Alabama, Hawaii, Louisiana, and West Virginia. Iowa has borne the brunt of the virus’ impact, with more than 15,000,000 birds affected by this outbreak.

As of November 14, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than 50.3 million birds had been killed either by the virus or after being exposed to the virus. In the coming days, that total could surpass the record set during the 2015 HPAI outbreak, which affected 50.5 million birds.

Although HPAI will make your turkey more expensive this year, it will not make your turkey inedible.

Every time cases of bird flu are reported in a commercial flock of turkeys, those turkeys have been prevented from entering the food system. Also, avian flu isn’t a foodborne illness, which means you can’t get it from eating poultry after it’s been cooked properly, according to Tom Super, senior vice president of communications for the National Chicken Council.

The risk of infection in humans is low. Those who work with or are exposed to birds in the wild are at greatest risk of infection, the CDC explains. For example, late last year a person in the UK tested positive for avian flu after a large number of their domestically kept birds contracted the virus. And a person living in Colorado tested positive for bird flu in April after being involved in depopulating a flock suspected to have bird flu.

If you own birds, the CDC suggests several precautions to reduce the risk of infection, including wearing protective gear and washing your hands, changing clothes, and avoiding contact with your mouth, nose, or eyes after touching the birds.

For those cooking on Thanksgiving, the CDC says poultry and eggs should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, which kills bacteria and viruses like bird flu. Properly treated and cooked poultry, including your more expensive Thanksgiving turkey, should therefore be safe to eat.

Speaking of which, the turkey probably won’t be the only expensive item on your Thanksgiving shopping list. Prices of baked goods, baked goods and fruits and vegetables have also risen compared to the same time last year, the latest data from the Labor Department shows.