AMES, Iowa — Don’t bother with a paper mask. Practicing good personal hygiene is the best way to control the potential spread of variant H1N1 influenza — also known as swine flu, says Iowa State University Extension food safety specialist Sam Beattie.
And, it’s OK to eat pork, Beattie added. “Flu viruses are typically not spread through food very readily.”
Despite the name swine flu, pork is safe to eat —follow established cooking recommendations as usual. “Cook your pork to 160 degrees as you’re supposed to,” the food safety specialist said.
The new variant H1N1 influenza is spreading rapidly throughout the world, Beattie said, but he noted that every year in the United States “upwards of 60 million people are made ill from [seasonal] influenza. Upwards of 36,000 people every year die from influenza A, the seasonal one.”
Beattie added, “We’re not sure where this one [variant H1N1] is going yet. But we have to take into consideration that we do see influenzas come up and we do have ways to deal with them.”
As with any type of influenza, practice good personal hygiene to reduce the potential spread of the virus, Beattie said. Use a tissue when sneezing or coughing to prevent phlegm from getting into the air, then properly dispose of the tissue.
Beattie also recommends “proper, diligent handwashing” several times in a day, particularly after touching shared items such as ATM keyboards, handrails and door handles.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are effective against this type of virus, he said. “If your hands are clean without visible soil, use an alcohol-based sanitizer. That will kill the influenza virus.”
Also, use common sense, he said. “If you get influenza, don’t be a hero. Don’t go to work. Stay at home and limit contacts with others.”
The food safety specialist recommended that food service managers send home employees who show up for work with runny noses and symptoms of flu. Otherwise, “that employee could spread the flu to the restaurant clientele,” Beattie said.
Now, about those paper masks: A mask keeps the wearer’s body fluids from leaving his or her facial area, so a mask can limit virus spread if the wearer has a virus. Other than that, simple masks may not be very effective, Beattie said. “They’re not going to help if someone right next to you is breathing out lots of viruses. You may still get it because the simple masks are not made to filter out those virus particles. It would be better to avoid crowded situations where distances from one face to another are less than six feet or so.”
Only high end, respirator-like devices can filter out virus particles, he said.
Listen to an interview with Beattie.
For more food safety information, visit the ISU Extension Food Safety Web site.
Laura Sternweis, Extension Communications and External Relations, (515) 294-0775, firstname.lastname@example.org