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How Bird Flu Has Grounded Your Late-Night Whataburger Taquito Addiction (Updated)

Carlo Nasisse for KUT News
Due to an egg shortage, Whataburger's cut back its breakfast hours.

Update June 20: Whataburger announced that its restaurants have returned to normal breakfast hours of 11 p.m. to 11 a.m. 

The company said in its press release that it's secured "additional egg supply" and that they no longer have an egg shortage. This story will be updated with any new information.

Original story: Last night, Whataburger, the beloved Texas bastion of burger-dom, announced in a statement that it will cut its breakfast hours by more than half, after a recent outbreak of avian influenza threatened its egg suppliers.

Social media-wise, it went about as well as one might expect — Blue Bell + flooding + Whataburger = apocalypse.

But, while the chain’s shortage of eggs may ruffle feathers of late-night taquito fiends, it’s a byproduct of a recent outbreak of nearly 200 avian flu cases resulting in the “depopulation” of 40 million chickens, mostly in Minnesota and Iowa, the latter of which is the country’s biggest poultry producer.

The chain’s cut back its breakfast hours to between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m. on weekdays, and until 11 a.m. on weekends, and says it’s working to add alternative suppliers to its supply chain.

John Howeth of the American Egg Board says Whataburger’s decision is a more of a supply decision than a health risk decision, as bird flu poses little risk to humans. But, for farmers, a case of bird flu can kill a whole farm in a matter of days.

“Once it spreads, every bird in the house needs to be depopulated, really every bird on the farm needs to be depopulated. The birds, if left naturally exposed to the virus, will die within five to seven days,” Howeth says. “So, once one bird gets it, all the birds have to be taken down.”

Howeth says the outbreak has compromised roughly 13 percent of the overall market, which, for fast food chains, consists of frozen egg products like egg patties — which have a shelf life of up to a year — and “egg breakers,” the liquefied eggs used in scrambled eggs and taquitos at Whataburger.

One of the hardest-hit areas in the Avian flu outbreak is in Northwest Iowa, where many farms specialize in egg breakers. Typically, those using egg breakers, like Whataburger, have to restock once or twice a week.

So, the cutback is a stop-gap until Whataburger finds a new supplier.

As for the poultry farmers affected by the outbreak, Howeth says the worst of the outbreak is behind us, but that there’s a long process of disinfection before farmers can begin to repopulate.

“It’s a pretty lengthy situation. It’s very unfortunate,” he says. “There are egg producers in other parts of the country that will try to create more eggs during that time period. But, as far as those infected areas, it could take anywhere from six months to a year before they’re back and functioning again.”

Or, as Catie Donaghy tweeted, it could be a sign of the impending apocalypse.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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