Animal influenzas, pandemic influenzas & food safety

You cannot get animal flu from food

Many bird and animal species can contract influenza-like (flu-like) viral diseases similar to human flu. Influenza is most commonly transmitted via the respiratory route, such as by coughing and sneezing. You cannot contract animal flu by eating appropriately prepared foods and food products derived from the bird or animal.

However, transmission can sometimes occur directly from a live animal or bird to a human, as happened in 1997 in Hong Kong with avian flu. Overseas, there is evidence pigs and turkeys have become infected with A/H1N1 North American influenza (‘swine flu’) from humans, but this has not yet occurred in New Zealand.

If A/H1N1, A/H5N1 influenza or any other animal influenza reaches New Zealand, MAF will be the lead agency that coordinates a government response to protect livestock and wildlife. Ministry of Health will be the lead agency if there is an outbreak of a highly contagious influenza in people.

New Zealand Food Safety Authority has a role in the planning for a possible influenza pandemic. It is involved with planning around food supply and related logistics during a pandemic, and how trade will be managed.

Below is the latest available information on both avian influenza and pandemic influenza.

For the most up-to-date New Zealand information, you can visit:

Influenza 2010 (including Swine Flu) (External)

For international information see the World Health Organisation and the OIE at:

Global Alert and Response (GAR) (External)

World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) (External)

For MAF information see:

Swine influenza - includes disease in pigs caused by pandemic (H1N1) 2009 (External)

International scientists, including those at the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and US Department of Agriculture, state that swine flu viruses are not transmitted by food. You cannot get the virus causing the current human outbreak from eating pork or pork products that are properly cooked.

Internationally traded food is safe

The World Animal Health Organization (OIE) believes it is incorrect to call the current human flu ‘swine influenza'. The virus that is circulating includes genetic components of human, avian and swine origin. The OIE now refers to this new virus as ‘pandemic H1N1 2009’. It was formerly called A/H1N1 ‘North American influenza’, using the same approach to geographic nomenclature used with the Asian influenza and Spanish influenza outbreaks that have occurred in the past.

Avoid preparing food if you have influenza

It is possible for a person who is ill with influenza or from many other viruses and bacteria to contaminate food, utensils or other objects and so pass the disease on. If you are unwell you should avoid preparing food for others.

If you must prepare food for your family, take extra care to ensure that you use good food handling practice. Wash hands and utensils thoroughly – wash with plenty of soap, rinse well and dry using a clean dry towel or paper towel (particularly for hands). Remember the 3Cs of food safety: clean, cook, chill.

Food safety at home