Europeans should avoid eating raw eggs and cook chicken carefully to cut down any risk of contracting bird flu, according to an advisory note expected on Wednesday from the European food safety authority.

The precautionary warning comes as the European poultry industry struggles to contain a sharp decline in sales because of consumers’ concerns about the spreading bird flu. In Italy chicken consumption fell about 40 per cent last month and Italian farmers held demonstrations to reassure the public about eating chicken.

The Parma-based food safety agency, responsible for providing scientific advice on food in the European Union, says proper cooking should prevent the disease from entering the human food chain. However, it also recognizes that the current scientific evidence is not sufficient to rule out the possibility that the deadly virus could spread to people through food.

The disease has hit primarily Asia, where it has decimated poultry stocks and killed more than 60 people. But following a recent outbreak in Turkey, it has been gradually spreading across Europe. The EU is introducing a ban on imports of captive wild birds after a parrot died of the H5N1 strain while in quarantine in the UK.

On Tuesday, France joined Germany and a handful of other European countries in imposing new curbs on farmers and ordering that poultry be kept indoors in the 21 French regions considered most at risk.