VEVEY, Switzerland, Feb 23 (Reuters) Nestle, the world's largest food company, has stepped up safety measures for workers in close proximity to live animals in response to bird flu concerns but says the virus poses no danger to customers.
Nestle, a huge producer of chicken stock cubes under the Maggi brand name, said it had intensified protective measures to limit exposure of workers who come in contact with chickens.
''There are different levels of exposure. Those people who are very close to live animals need of course to be protected most (and) safety measures have been increased substantially,'' Chief Executive Peter Brabeck told Reuters in an interview.
''We have contingency plans.'' Health authorities fear that the H5N1 strain of bird flu, which has spread rapidly among wildfowl, could mutate from its current form into one that will spark a pandemic among humans with deadly consequences for millions of people.
Some 90 people in seven countries have died from the virus since 2003. Around 200 million birds have been culled as a measure to prevent the virus' spread among animals.
Brabeck said sales of chicken bouillon -- or stock -- have increased since the virus began spreading among animals because bouillon allows customers to avoid contact with chicken meat.
He said that Nestle products containing chicken were sterilised against the virus, which dies once heated to temperatures exceeding 65 degrees Celcius.
''On the products side, there is absolutely no danger,'' he said.
''All those products are being completely sterilised.'' REUTERS SD PM1750