England and Wales will temporarily relax rules on thawing poultry due to the impact of bird flu.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) advises consumers to buy turkey, duck, capon or goose products, which may have been frozen and thawed before sale.
The UK is dealing with its worst ever outbreak of bird flu, with more than 200 cases confirmed in the past 12 months. Avian influenza poses a very low food safety risk to consumers, but it can occasionally make people sick.
The measures mean farmers raising turkeys, geese or ducks can choose to slaughter their poultry ahead of time and freeze the products, which can then be thawed and sold to the public.
In the EU, the sale of thawed previously frozen poultry, including turkey, is not permitted.
In England and Wales, products should be declared thawed and suitable for home freezing if so stated on the label. Temporary changes apply from November 28 to December 31, 2022, excluding chicken.
Narriman Looch, head of foodborne illness control at the FSA, said thawed produce was safe to eat as long as consumers followed label directions and practiced good food hygiene.
“This is different from our usual advice not to refreeze raw meat that has been defrosted at home, as the food industry has specialized equipment to freeze very quickly and then defrost these products under controlled conditions. Home freezers are less efficient, so in Thawing and refreezing raw meat at home can harbor harmful bacteria.”
No change to European rules
Due to NI agreements, this change does not apply to products sold in Northern Ireland.
“By culling the birds ahead of time and freezing them, the products can be thawed and sold on Christmas Eve without fear of the impact of bird flu on supply,” said Andrea Martinez-Inchausti, deputy director of food at the British Food Association. Retail Consortium (BRC).
EU rules require poultry meat to be in one of three states: fresh (not previously frozen), frozen or quick-frozen.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) said businesses in the country should be aware that despite temporary allowances in England and Wales, EU regulations have not changed. The production and/or sale of poultry in thawed state is still prohibited in all EU Member States and Northern Ireland.
The agency is asking importers, retailers, distributors and producers to be extra vigilant about poultry marketing standards in their Christmas 2022 operations.
Examples of operations not permitted in Ireland include importing thawed poultry, placing it on the market and producing thawed poultry.
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