New rules issued to ensure food safety

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The Independent Online

Restaurants have been told to stop preparing gourmet dishes consisting of raw eggs and half-cooked poultry to eliminate any risk of catching bird flu.

The Food Standards Agency is advising the food industry and the public only to serve meat where the juices run clear and eggs that have solid whites.

The guidelines rule out the making of fresh mayonnaise and mousses with raw eggs and the serving of poultry cooked rare, such as duck pink in the middle. Mousses and mayonnaise sold in supermarkets are made with (safe) pasteurised egg.

The agency issued the advice - which may be resisted by some restaurateurs - as poultry farmers anticipate sales falling in response to confirmation of Britain's outbreak of H5N1 yesterday. Supermarkets said it was too early to forecast the impact of the virus but the British Poultry Council expected a "dip" until confidence recovered.

Sales of poultry on mainland Europe plunged by as much as 80 per cent in the weeks after cases of avian flu were discovered in Turkey. France said last month its poultry industry, the largest in Europe, was losing £27m a month.

As scientists checked the test results on a dead swan in Scotland yesterday, the directors of the FSA met to discuss the issuing of advice to the public.

Afterwards, the FSA chairwoman Deirdre Hutton issued a statement mixing assurance about food safety and a warning to cook poultry properly. Bird flu is not considered to be a food-borne disease but is transmitted to people in close contact with infected birds.

Dame Deirdre said: "If you wish to eat poultry and eggs you should continue to do so, following the normal precautions of cooking thoroughly and by that we mean cooking until there are no red juices, or in the case of eggs, cooking until the white is hard.

"And that advice applies to cooking chickens generally, not just because of the possibility of avian flu."

On eggs specifically, the Food Standards Agency warned: "People should not eat raw eggs or use raw eggs in dishes that will not be cooked." The agency said independent experts had advised runny yolks could be eaten, in contrast to the World Health Organisation, which stipulated that both egg whites and yolks should be solid.

The FSA advises anyone handling poultry to wash their hands thoroughly and clean surfaces and utensils in contact with poultry.

The British Poultry Council (BPA) said farmers were "concerned but calm" about the threat to sales. Britain produces 850 million chickens for eating every year and the poultry industry employs 76,000 people. It is worth £3bn a year. Jeremy Blackburn, BPA executive officer, said the discovery of avian flu cases on mainland Europe had led to short "blitzes" on sales in Britain. "I would be surprised if there wasn't a slight dip," he said.

Tesco, Sainsbury and Waitrose said there was no major dip in UK sales after the European outbreaks.