Opinion: Runny eggs are delicious. But in an era of bird flu, should they be off the menu? | CNN (2024)

Opinion: Runny eggs are delicious. But in an era of bird flu, should they be off the menu? | CNN (1)

"With no evidence that the virus is in anything we eat raw other than milk, I’ll continue to prepare my eggs so that the yolk is runny," writes Michael Ruhlman.

Editor’s Note: Michael Ruhlman is a James Beard award-winning writer who has authored or co-authored more than 25 books — non-fiction, fiction and memoir — mostly on food and cooking. His books include “The Soul of a Chef,” and, most recently, “Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America.” The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Readmore opinionat CNN.

Spannocchia, Italy CNN

I’m writing from an organic farm and ecotourism site in Tuscany calledSpannocchia. I’ve just made myself a couple ofmollet eggs— whites cooked, yolks runny.

Opinion: Runny eggs are delicious. But in an era of bird flu, should they be off the menu? | CNN (2)

Michael Ruhlman

Delicious — but also perhaps slightly worrying, given the emerging reports ofbird flu on poultry and dairy farms. Should I be concerned? And should you be as well, as you prepare your favorite meals at home?

There have been numerous reported cases of wild birds and marine animals said to be carrying this virus and its variants, as well as the documentedspread to mammalsbeyond cows, such ascats, dogsand mice. Should any of that determine the temperature at which I cook my eggs? And just as importantly, what should I tell home cooks who seek my advice on the matter?

This avian flu virus is clearly something to take seriously as it spreads rapidly through dairy farms across the United States affectingmore than 90 herds in 12 states since March. It’s clear that drinkingraw or unpasteurized milk is now high-risk. “Our national dairy industry is clearly fighting a major epidemic of H5N1 avian flu,” Donald G. McNeil Jr., a journalist who has covered epidemics for decades,wrote.

Even though I know it may contain harmful bacteria, I’ve had raw milk. It’s delicious — and at the time I drank it, it seemed worth the risk. But viruses are not bacteria. They are a different kind of microorganism, capable of mutating.

Since we know that this virus is spreading through our dairy farms, it’s clearly foolhardy to drink raw milk. Not just so that you don’t get sick yourself but just as importantly, so that you don’t become a spreader.

Bottles of raw milk are displayed for sale at a store in Temecula, Calif., on Wednesday, May 8, 2024. (AP Photo/JoNel Aleccia) JoNel Aleccia/AP Related article With bird flu infecting dairy cattle, FDA asks some states to curb sales of raw milk

Fortunately, with avian flu so far, there’s no evidence yet of human-to-human transmission. But again, viruses mutate. There’s no guarantee that transmissions between humans won’t occur in the future.

We have substantial evidence that heat inactivates the virus.The USDA reportsthat ground beef inoculated with the virus was virus-free when cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit and higher. For a burger or steak, that would be medium to well-done, with no pink at the center. Live virus is likewisenot present in pasteurized milk.

So where does all of this leave us in terms of how you should proceed in your kitchen? Most food authorities couch their your-food-is-safe-to-eat opinions with the caveat “as long as it’s properly cooked.” But even with cooked food, there is some risk of becoming ill if an entire dish is not heated to pasteurization temperatures (between 145 degrees and 160 degrees Fahrenheit).

Until we learn otherwise, I would say the best guidance for now is that it’s probably safe to continue to prepare your meals as you always have — runny eggs and all. Most professional chefs I’ve spoken to are comfortable with that guidance. They haven’t changed kitchen protocol in terms of cooking times and temperatures as a result of bird flu.

We need to monitor how and where the virus is spreading. For now,the CDC risk assessment to humans from bird flu is low. But home cooks should keep an ear to the ground from health authorities for changes in that guidance.

The culling of 13,000 laying hens infected with bird flu (avian influenza) continued at the breeding hen farm in Vanec, Trebic District, Vysocina Region, Czech Republic, on February 28, 2024. Photo/Lubos Pavlicek (CTK via AP Images) Lubos Pavlicek/CTK/AP/File Related article Opinion: How to prepare for our latest viral threat

Is there a danger that our avian flu could cause chefs and food writers like me to rethink that guidance? Yes, I’m afraid so. The virus has been found in the muscle of infected cattle, it’s alive in raw milk, and it is small enough to pass through the pores of eggshells.

As I was writing this piece, I reached out a few chefs and others including McNeil, who is a leading authority on viruses and how they spread to get their views on the potential danger to our food chain posed by bird flu.

McNeil told me that he felt US food authorities could have done more — and done it much sooner — to sound the alarm to the public about the emergence and spread of bird flu. There areplenty of expertsin the scientific community who agree with him.

The government needs to do more to make industrial farms comply with inspections that some have been resistant to. Moreover, he wrote to me by email that “it’s clear that many dairy farmers are resisting letting inspectors onto their property to test either their cows or their workers. I think that’s outrageous. Hidden transmission creates the perfect setting for an epidemic.”

Months into this bird flu outbreak, guidance from the government is less clear than we’d like about what we should and shouldn’t consume and how we should prepare the foods we love, and for a lot of people — including food professionals like me —that’s frustrating.

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As the H5N1 virus spreads, there might come a moment when food authorities decide we should be taking greater precautions than we did before its emergence. That could mean cooking all burgers medium to well, all eggs till they’re hard and taking steak tartare topped with a raw egg yolk totally off the menu.

With no evidence that the virus is in anything we eat raw other than milk, I’ll continue to prepare my eggs so that the yolk is runny, and I’ll keep ordering the beef tartare for dinner at my neighborhood bistro.

It’s funny, though. The Italian farm where I’m staying employs numerous international interns. On the morning I began writing this essay, the first words I heard came from one of those interns, outside my window. She called out to her colleague, “One of the chickens is dead.”

Chickens on farms die for all kinds of reasons, but the timing seemed an ominous reminder that we need to be alert and to pay attention. Until we hear something definitive however, I’m trying not to be afraid of my food, and advise you to do the same.Bon appetit!

Opinion: Runny eggs are delicious. But in an era of bird flu, should they be off the menu? | CNN (2024)

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