Avian flu: milk test results in Canada

As bird flu spreads south of the border, Canadian officials are testing samples of milk sold in grocery stores across the country.

The results of these tests were made public on Thursday, a day after a second American dairy worker tested positive for bird flu, also known as H5N1.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said all 303 retail milk samples collected nationally as of May 16 tested negative for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) fragments. Milk samples showed no evidence of disease in dairy cattle, he added.

Even though some samples of unpasteurized U.S. milk have tested positive, Canadian health officials say there is no concern about the safety of the commercial milk supply because of the pasteurization process.

Why Canadian milk is safe

“Commercially sold milk and dairy products remain safe for consumption,” the CFIA said in an update to its website. “The pasteurization process kills harmful bacteria and viruses, including HPAI, ensuring that milk and dairy products are safe to drink and eat.”

He said pasteurization still preserves the nutritional properties of milk.

Milk must be pasteurized before being sold in Canada and all suspected HPAI cases must be reported to the CFIA, he added.

“No highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has been detected in dairy cattle or other livestock in Canada,” he wrote. “HPAI is not a food safety issue and the risk of transmission to humans remains low.”

How the milk was tested

The CFIA said it tested commercial milk samples from across Canada using a type of polymerase chain reaction test. This method of testing milk for HPAI is “very sensitive,” allowing fragments of the virus to be detected even if it is not infectious, she explained.

The following is the number of samples evaluated during the tests carried out on May 16:

  • Atlantic provinces: 77
  • Ontario: 75
  • Quebec: 76
  • Western provinces: 75

Whats Next

Although there are no confirmed cases, the CFIA says it continues to monitor the situation and take proactive measures by testing commercial milk. It will also provide updates and consider additional measures if necessary. “Our role at HPAI in livestock is to provide scientific guidance and diagnostic assistance and report internationally,” she wrote.

He said there are no impacts on the trade in live cattle or their products. Canada requires lactating dairy cattle imported from the US to test negative for HPAI starting April 29.

The CFIA says there are livestock import controls, including import permits, export certification and veterinary inspection.