Bird flu outbreak: Are milk and eggs safe?

The United States is currently grappling with a bird flu outbreak, which has affected two dozen dairy cow herds across eight states. This comes just weeks after the nation's largest egg producer detected the virus in its chickens.

Despite the disease's spread, health officials urge the public to stay calm, emphasizing that the risk to the public is minimal and assuring that the nation's food supply remains secure.

"At this time, there continues to be no concern that this circumstance poses a risk to consumer health, or that it affects the safety of the interstate commercial milk supply," the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in a statement.

RELATED: Bird flu: Can humans get infected?

Here's a simple rundown of what's happening with the outbreak and how it affects the safety of your food.

Are milk and eggs safe?

Yes, as health officials have mentioned before, there's no worry about the U.S. food supply.

While it's possible for people to catch bird flu if they're in close contact with infected birds, it doesn't happen often.

Since 2020, a bird flu virus has been circulating among a broader range of animal species, including dogs, cats, skunks, bears, seals, and porpoises, across numerous countries.

However, experts advise against panicking, emphasizing that the risk to the general public is minimal and there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission.

U.S. producers cannot sell milk from sick cows and must dispose of it. Moreover, milk sold between states must undergo pasteurization, a heat treatment process that eliminates bacteria and viruses, including influenza.

"We firmly believe that pasteurization provides a safe milk supply," Tracey Forfa, director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine told a webinar audience this week.

Is raw milk safe from bird flu? 

The FDA and the CDC express uncertainty regarding unpasteurized, or raw, milk sold in numerous states, citing limited information on potential H5N1 virus transmission in these products.

While no herds associated with raw milk suppliers have reported bird flu-infected cows thus far, both agencies advise the industry against producing or selling raw milk or raw milk cheese products from cows displaying symptoms or those exposed to infected cows.

U.S. health officials have long warned against the risk of foodborne illness tied to raw milk, which the CDC said caused more than 200 outbreaks that sickened more than 2,600 people between 1998 and 2018.

Can you catch bird flu from eggs or meat? 

After reports surfaced earlier this month of a dairy worker in Texas contracting a highly pathogenic strain of bird flu, it's understandable that concerns about a potential broader health emergency may arise. But this is only the second case of a person in the U.S. being diagnosed with the Type A H5N1 virus. 

The first instance occurred in 2022 when a prison inmate participating in a work program contracted the virus while culling infected birds at a poultry farm in Montrose County, Colorado. Despite experiencing fatigue as the sole symptom, the individual made a full recovery.

According to agriculture officials, only dairy cows, not beef cattle, have been infected or displayed signs of illness thus far.

The largest egg producer in the U.S. suspended operations on April 2 upon discovering bird flu in its chickens. Cal-Maine Foods euthanized approximately 1.6 million laying hens and an additional 337,000 pullets (young hens) following the detection.

The company reassured consumers that there was no risk to eggs in the market and that no eggs had been recalled.

Eggs that are handled properly and cooked thoroughly are safe to eat, said Barbara Kowalcyk, director of the Center for Food Safety and Nutrition Security at George Washington University.

"A lot of people like runny eggs. Personally, if I eat an egg, it’s very well cooked," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.