MANHATTAN, Kan. - Concerns about avian flu need not spoil hunting season, said Karen Blakeslee, Kansas State University Research and Extension food scientist.

Avian -- or bird -- flu is not new, said Blakeslee, who cautioned that current concerns focus on a new, virulent strain, H5N1, found in Asia.

"USDA animal health experts are actively monitoring the potential spread of bird flu virus and birds affected by it," she said.

The new bird flu has not yet been found in Kansas or North America, but scientists are monitoring migratory birds and hunters are encouraged to be watchful for distressed birds and to follow food safety steps in field dressing, storing and cooking game birds, said Blakeslee, who offered these tips:

  • Look for obvious signs that a bird is in distress. See the KSU
    Avian Influenza Web site
    for more details on identifying sick birds.

  • Field dress birds promptly.

    -- Do not pile warm birds in a mass.

    -- Remove the entrails and crop as soon as possible, as grain in the crop can ferment, if not removed.

    -- To save the heart and liver as giblets, transfer them to a re-sealable plastic bag. Label to identify the bird before placing the bag on ice in an ice chest.

    -- Birds can be plucked or skinned in the field and feathers stored in a plastic bag.

    -- Wipe out the cavity with a clean cloth or paper towel. Do not use grass or snow that may contaminate the carcass.

    -- Place birds in individual re-sealable plastic bags. Label the bag to identify the bird, date and location it was bagged before placing it on ice in an ice chest.

    -- Birds can be stored in the refrigerator (at temperature of 45 degrees F or less) for up to three days, or frozen, either as a whole, clean carcass or in parts, at 0 degrees F. for future meals.

  • Wash hands in hot, soapy water before and after handling game. If water is unavailable, waterless hand sanitizers will work. Be sure hands do not have visible dirt before using hand sanitizers.

  • To reduce the risk of cross-contamination, don't eat, drink or smoke when field dressing game.

  • Keep ice chest out of direct sun.

  • Assemble a field dressing kit with soap, water jug and/or hand sanitizer, paper towels, cutting board(s), knives, sharpening stone, re-sealable plastic bags, plastic or latex gloves, trash bags, labels and a marker to field dress birds before transferring them to an ice

  • Follow the USDA recommendations to cook poultry to 165 degrees F and check doneness with a food thermometer.

    Cooking poultry and game birds to 165 degrees F will kill foodborne pathogens, Blakeslee said.

  • To disinfect field dressing kit before storing, Blakeslee recommends sanitizing knives, cutting board(s), etc. with a solution of one teaspoon of unscented chlorine bleach mixed with one quart of water. Using a dishwasher will work, if utensils, etc. are dishwasher-safe.

  • Simply washing your hands and keeping food preparation tools and workspaces clean can easily reduce the risk of foodborne illness and cross-contamination.

  • For more food safety and health tips, contact the local or district K-State Research and Extension office or visit Extension's food safety Web site.

    Additional food safety tips and game recipes also are available on the North Dakota State University Web site; search for "Wild Side of the Menu."

    SOURCE: K-State University Extension news release.