PSU food safety expert says nation's food supply safe from H1N1 flu

May 05, 2009

University Park, Pa. — As the nation braces for the impact of the H1N1 Influenza A virus or swine flu, some consumers are uncertain of how to handle their normal consumption of pork — which could be bad news for American pork producers. But a food-safety specialist in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences says, despite its name, swine flu can't be spread through pork products.

"The H1N1 influenza may have its origins with swine, but it's a flu virus — primarily a respiratory illness passed from person to person through coughing, sneezing or related contact," said Martin Bucknavage, food-safety extension associate in the Department of Food Science. "There's no way to get influenza by handling pork, since it's not transmissible through food — it really doesn't have anything to do with ham, bacon or any other pork products."

Reports indicate that the flu strain turning up around the globe is actually a hybrid of bird, human and swine influenzas, but the swine portion seems to dominate in the popular imagination. As a result, early news reports show a decline in nationwide pork consumption, even though U.S. Department of Agriculture officials have said ham, bacon and other pork products are safe for human consumption when they're thoroughly cooked. 

Bucknavage explained that good personal hygiene practices are what consumers need to focus on — not avoiding pork. Following such practices as hand washing and covering their mouths when they cough or sneeze are essential in preventing the spread of viruses.

"Hand washing is key to preventing spread of influenza," he said. "And not just a perfunctory rinse, but using soap and warm water, scrubbing and rinsing very well for at least 20 seconds and then drying with a clean, single-use towelette or paper towel.

"Another important thing is to seek treatment. If you start to have heaviness in your chest, or if you have experienced vomiting or diarrhea, it's important to go see the doctor. You don't want to have these symptoms for a long time without getting medical attention."

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated May 18, 2009