Coronavirus Found on Frozen Food Imported to China. Should You Be Worried?

Health + Wellness

The frozen meat section at a supermarket in Hong Kong, China, in February. Chukrut Budrul / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images

Imported frozen food in three Chinese cities has tested positive for the new coronavirus, but public health experts say you still shouldn’t worry too much about catching the virus from food or packaging.

In the last four days, the virus turned up on Brazilian chicken wings in Shenzhen, packaging for Ecuadorian shrimp in Wuhu and imported seafood packaging in Yantai, NBC News reported.

“All the citizens should be cautious in buying imported frozen meat products and aquatic products in recent days,” the Shenzhen Municipal Health Commission said Thursday when it announced its findings about the chicken wings.

However, the commission traced and tested everyone who had come in contact with the chicken, and no one tested positively for COVID-19. And the World Health Organization (WHO) has advised people not to worry about catching the virus from their food.

“People should not fear food, or food packaging or processing or delivery of food,” WHO head of emergencies programme Mike Ryan said in a briefing, as Reuters reported. “There is no evidence that food or the food chain is participating in transmission of this virus. And people should feel comfortable and safe.”

Yale disease ecologist Brandon Ogbunu agreed. He pointed out that the packaging tests only detect virus genetic material, or RNA.

“This is just detecting the signature that the virus has been there at some point,” he told The New York Times.

To prove the virus on the packaging was still infectious, researchers would have to prove it could reproduce itself in a lab.

It is also unlikely the virus would survive the freezing and thawing process in tact.

“Yes, we should continue to wash our hands and be mindful of surfaces where a lot of individuals are,” Ogbunu said. “But it’s close proximity to others that can really facilitate transmission.”

This echoes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines about the virus and food.

“Coronaviruses, like the one that causes COVID-19, are thought to spread mostly person-to-person through respiratory droplets when someone coughs, sneezes, or talks,” the CDC wrote July 25. “It is possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object, including food or food packaging, that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. However, this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

Still, New Zealand is now investigating whether frozen food packages could be the cause of a new outbreak in the country that broke a more than 100 day streak of no new cases, Newsweek reported.

One of the cases was connected to a worker who handled imports at a frozen food storage plant.

“We’re not ruling anything out,” Ashley Bloomfield, New Zealand’s Director-General of Health, said during a press conference Wednesday. “We do know from studies overseas that actually, the virus can survive in some refrigerated environments for quite some time.”

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