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Forget bird flu and enjoy Thanksgiving

This week’s feasts shouldn’t be spoiled by worries of Avian flu, experts say.
Monday, November 21, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:13 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

If talk of bird flu has slightly quelled your appetite for juicy, scrumptious Thanksgiving turkey, you can rest easy with the thought that most of the turkeys in grocery stores are home-bred.

Almost as many turkeys are raised each in year in the United States as there are Americans — Missouri alone expects to raise 20.5 million gobblers this year, according to the Census Bureau.

And although recent media hype has been scary, few people are aware that most commercially grown turkeys will undoubtedly contract some mild strain of avian flu.

In fact, there are 144 types of bird flu, all of which are harmless, with one exception — the H5N1 strain, which can only spread to humans who have had extensive exposure to infected bird saliva or droppings.

Just eating poultry will not give you the disease, and that particular strain of the virus has not been detected in U.S. poultry.

According to the meat departments at Schnucks, HyVee and Gerbes, none of their customers have expressed concerns about bird flu ruining their Thanksgiving dinner. Missouri poultry farmers don’t seem that concerned either.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, eating properly handled and cooked poultry is a safe enough precaution. The U.S. government has banned imported poultry from countries affected by the H5N1 strain.

Across the waters, things are not that different. European health officials say cooking kills the virus, and they are assuring Europeans it is safe to eat chicken, with no mention of turkey.

If you are still not convinced, consider alternatives. Tofurkey for example, is a non-meat option and is widely available.

Typically, tofurkey is made from tofu mixed with wheat protein, and its texture and taste can get close to the real deal.

Tofu turkey will, of course, deprive you of the joy of drumsticks, but it will also won’t leave you so sleepy after dinner. Tofurkey can be bought at natural food stores.

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