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Poultry and Human Health

The human population benefits greatly from poultry meat and eggs, which provide food containing high-quality protein, and a low level of fat with a desirable fatty acid profile. In most rural regions of developing countries, families generally have access to meat and eggs provided by their own, usually small, flocks. Urban dwellers have access through locally produced or imported poultry products from commercial production. There are generally no cultural taboos on poultry meat and egg consumption, although there is a preference for consuming poultry meat rather than eggs in many cultures. Most birds can be consumed by a family at one meal, so there is less need for refrigeration.

There are, however, a number of risks to humans associated with poultry production and the consumption of poultry meat and eggs. For people in contact with live birds, the greatest concern relates to the risk of infection with highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus in areas where the disease is endemic. To reduce this risk, it is very important that sick birds are not killed and prepared for human consumption.

Contamination of poultry meat and eggs, during processing, handling, marketing and storage prior to cooking, can lead to food poisoning in humans. The main causes of human intestinal infections from this source are bacteria, principally Salmonella and Campylobacter. The more steps and time in the process from slaughter to consumption, the greater the risk of contamination. Of particular concern in many countries is the way in which imported frozen poultry products are handled prior to sale and consumption. Another cause for concern for human health is the inappropriate use of antibiotics in poultry production, and the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Effective control systems are critical in ensuring product safety, and considerable information is available on how to minimize the risks.