The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) has issued a food safety update amid public concern over the presence of H5N1 avian influenza in parts of continental Europe.

EFSA's advice said that there is no evidence to suggest to date that bird flu can be transmitted to humans through consumption of food, notably poultry and eggs, but that the possibility could not be ruled out. It further confirmed that there should be no change to longstanding food safety advice that poultry products be properly cooked in order to protect consumers from possible risks of food poisoning.

Nevertheless, in view of the developing situation in relation to avian influenza, EFSA's Scientific Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) is keeping this issue under constant review.

EFSA said it concurs with the advice of health authorities such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) indicating that the most likely route of infection of the H5N1 bird flu virus in humans is through close contact with infected live poultry and not through the consumption of poultry or eggs. The latter possibility cannot however be ruled out, EFSA said.

In the European Union, the presence of the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of bird flu has not been detected in commercial poultry to date.

"As precautionary advice and in order to avoid known risks of food poisoning from Salmonella and other organisms, EFSA reconfirms longstanding recommendations that poultry meat and eggs be thoroughly cooked. Whilst it is unlikely that H5N1 could be passed onto humans by raw meat or eggs, cooking food properly would inactivate the virus and eliminate this potential risk," EFSA said.