Thanksgiving is a day when we count our blessings. We celebrate our health, our happiness, our family, and we celebrate it all by indulging in a traditional feast—a feast that generally features turkey.
The turkey—once in the running for the title of national bird—has been roaming the North American continent for centuries, and to this day remains a symbol of bounty. While the U.S. is still home to a large population of wild turkeys, for most of us, the turkey that arrives at our table will be farm-raised.
One of the benefits of eating a farm-raised turkey is that it is closely monitored for health standards. In today’s food safety conscious climate, it’s comforting to know that there are steps taken to ensure we all enjoy a healthy meal.
The National Poultry Improvement Plan
In the early 1930s, Congress passed the National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) to provide a cooperative industry, state, and federal program through which new diagnostic technology could be effectively applied to the improvement of poultry and poultry products throughout the country. This act mandates that certain practices be put in place to ensure all poultry marketed in the U.S. is raised with food purity and safety in mind.
Commercial turkey farmers raise approximately 100 million turkeys each year and employ the practices detailed in the NPIP. Even so, illness can strike. Between December 2014 and June 2015, an avian influenza outbreak resulted in the loss of 7.5 percent, or 7.5 million turkeys across the United States. Affected farms can’t immediately return to production—taking as long as six months before restocking.
These setbacks cost more than lost birds; outbreaks can result in loss of export markets if other countries ban import of poultry from affected states, or in some cases, the entire U.S.
To protect against outbreaks, the NPIP prescribes the following preventative measures:
Keep it Away
Keep your fowl away from other birds, both wild and domestic, and any other animals to prevent contamination. Be sure they are provided with bird-proof and mammal-proof houses.
Keep it Clean
That means everything—cages, coops, equipment and clothing. Clean up feed spills around the outside. Wash your hands before entering the bird area. Wear clean clothes in the cages and scrub your shoes with disinfectant, or better yet have a separate pair of shoes to enter the poultry houses with.
Keep the Outside Out and the Inside In
Control who goes in and out, both in the houses and on the property. Designate clothing and footwear for each house and assume the ground outside is contaminated. Disinfect vehicles, equipment and supplies before introducing them into the house. Keep pests away. Separate new birds for four weeks before introducing them to the coop.
Ideally, these protective measures help ensure the birds do not get sick.
Sometimes these measures are not enough, but early detection can help prevent the spread of diseases like avian flu. Symptoms to watch for include:
sudden increase in bird deaths
sneezing, gasping for air, coughing and/or runny nose
watery and green diarrhea
lack of energy and poor appetite
drop in egg production or soft or thin-shelled, misshapen eggs
swelling around the eyes, neck and head
purple discoloration of the wattles, combs and legs
tremors, drooping wings, circling, twisting of the head and neck, or lack of movement
Should you witness any of these symptoms, you have some testing options.
Avian influenza can be tested by a blood test (which looks at antibodies for past exposure) or by PCR testing. The PCR test is perhaps the least invasive test for the birds. Samples taken with swabs of the trachea or oropharynx and cloaca are used to test for influenza virus.
The preferred swab for avian influenza testing is a flocked swab. Puritan’s PurFlock Ultra® swabs with a miniature or ultrafine tip are ideal for small cavities.
As a matter of fact, previous customers have stated these swabs "made the sampling process easier for the staff, less injurious to the birds and more efficient for processing.” They further stated the “flocked swab was a much better device” than what they had been using before.
The moral of the story is, as you gear up for your Thanksgiving feast, you should feel confident in the steps that have been taken to ensure your turkey is in good health. The U.S. Poultry Association has some of the most rigorous health and safety standards, including rigorous monitoring for the avian flu.
If you are in the industry and would like additional information on how our swabs can help your birds, please don’t hesitate to contact one of our product experts. As always, Puritan is here to help.
Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!