Food safety has made headlines in newspapers and magazines lately due to outbreaks of diseases such as hepatitis, E.Coli infections, and food poisoning, to name a few. Common food poisonings found in humans include E.coli 0157:H7, salmonella, campylobacter and listeria. Leaving fresh food and water in the bird’s cage for several hours may be the cause of bacterial infections in birds.
In our aviary, wet food is left in cages for approximately 6 hours during the winter months, and for less time during the summer months. We try to maintain a temperature in our aviaries of 70 degrees F. but it sometimes rises when the outside temperature is above 90 degrees F. However, we seldom have bacterial problems in our flock.
There are several ways to prepare foods which will help reduce the risk of infectious disease problems in birds:
- Wash your hands.My veterinarian has told me on more than one occasion that one would be surprised at how effective handwashing with a good antibacterial soap can be against bacteria. I wash my hands several times during preparation of foods for our birds, and especially after handling raw meats or eggs. Hands should be dried with a clean towel or paper towel.
- Sanitize cutting surfaces and utensils.We chop vegetables and fruits with a very sharp knife, on a built-in cutting board, both of which are washed and dried thoroughly between foods.
It would be wise to disinfect your cutting surface and utensils daily with a disinfectant, or a mixture of 3 teaspoons of chlorine bleach mixed in 1 gallon of water. (I don’t suggest using this bleach mixture around your birds, however, because it may cause eye and lung irritation). Disinfecting is a sanitation practice that is absolutly necessary if raw meat or eggs have been cut on the cutting surface.
- Wash Foods.Before foods are cut and served, they are thoroughly washed. Some people use a solution of 1 part Nolvansan liquid to 8 parts water; or 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach (which contains sodium hypochlorite and no phosphorous) in 1 gallon of water. Fruits and vegetables can be soaked for up to 10 minutes, then rinsed thoroughly in another bowl with running water for at least 5 minutes. Be sure to inspect foods thoroughly before washing them to detect mold, overripe or brown spots.
It should go without saying that any meats which are being prepared should be thoroughly washed, whether they are for human or your birds’ consumption.
- Cook meats thoroughly.Any meats we serve our birds, which include turkey, chicken, or beef, must be well cooked.
One caller told me she feeds her birds meats prepared on the barbeque grill cooked medium well-done. I would strongly suggest that if you want to serve ground meat cooked on the grill, to recook it in the microwave, to make absolutely certain the center is well cooked. (Note: Cooking the center to well done is applicable only to ground meat. The center of a steak or roast is absolutely free of E. coli or other contaminants. Only something the animal consumes can get into the meat or something live which infiltrates, such as trichinosis in pork.
Also, remember that meats should not be served to our birds if they have been left out for any length of time. A good example of this would be turkey that has been left on the table after Thanksgiving dinner, while the participants are visiting.
Of course, food handling is not always the cause of infectious agents found in foods. The E.coli bacterium was found in frozen hamburger patties prepared at a meat plant. An outbreak of hepatitis A was traced to strawberries packaged by a company in San Diego, but the frozen strawberries were from Mexico, and used in Michigan. An outbreak of cyclospora (a parasite) was blamed on Guatemalan raspberries.
Though not affecting our birds, another disease outbreak was caused by tainted ice cream which had been transported by trucks that previously carried raw eggs.
A recent newspaper article reported that on crops, contamination occurs from the use of untreated water for irrigation or fertilizers containing the dangerous organisms. It went on to say that cattle feed may include contaminated animal parts or waste material. It was further reported that Mexico is the primary exporter of vegetables to the United States. The author of this article explained that in one particular town whose crops he observed, the surrounding communities emptied their sewage into the river which supplied the water to irrigate fields of corn.
Mexico is now shipping winter fruits and vegetables which may be contaminated with pesticides or other chemicals. Restrictions on chemicals sprayed on crops are much less stringent south of the border than in the United States. Some foods coming in are hot peppers, watermelons, squash, strawberries, carrots, berries, kiwi, other tropical fruits, and pears. It is a good idea to check packages or signs at the produce counters in grocery stores before purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables. In the past, imported grapes have received bad press due to overuse of chemicals.
Organically grown and prepared foods are very popular for ourselves and our birds, but they are expensive and may be difficult to grow ourselves. Besides, their safety has been questioned because they are often fertilized with manure which could well be contaminated.
Unfortunately, the federal agencies and watchdog groups cannot be expected to inspect and approve every fruit and vegetable we and our birds eat, so it is up to us to determine which foods are safe and healthy, and to educate ourselves about safe food preparation, for the benefit of ourselves and our wards.