BEIJING / SHANGHAI / BRAZIL (Reuters) – Two cities in China have found traces of the new coronavirus in shipments of imported frozen food, local authorities said on Thursday, although the World Health Organization downplayed the risk of the virus entering the food chain.
A man looks at frozen food in a supermarket following a coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in Beijing, China, on August 13, 2020. REUTERS / Thomas Peter
A sample taken from the wing surface of frozen chickens imported into the southern city of Shenzhen from Brazil, as well as outer packaging samples of Ecuadorian frozen shrimp sold in the northwestern city of Xian, tested positive for the virus, authorities said. local kineze.
Shenzhen authorities identified the chicken as originating from a factory owned by Aurora, the third largest exporter of poultry and pigs.
As confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to grow globally, the findings raise new concerns that the disease-causing coronavirus could spread to the surface and enter the food chain. A day earlier, officials began investigating whether the first COVID-19 cases in New Zealand in more than three months were imported from the goods.
Viruses can survive for up to two years at temperatures of minus 20 degrees Celsius, but scientists and officials say there is no strong evidence so far the coronavirus can be spread through frozen food.
“People should not be afraid of food, food packaging or food delivery,” World Health Organization director Mike Ryan told a news conference.
The U.S. Department of Food and Drug Administration and Agriculture said in a joint statement “there is no evidence that humans can contract COVID-19 from food or from food packaging.”
Brazil Aurora, which is not registered, said it had not been officially notified by Chinese authorities of the alleged contamination. The company said it is taking all possible measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and there is no evidence that it is spreading through food. Brazil’s agriculture ministry said it was seeking clarification from Chinese authorities.
Reuters could not immediately reach the Ecuadorian embassy in Beijing.
Shenzhen health authorities tracked and tested anyone who might have come in contact with potentially contaminated food and all results were negative, the city said in a statement.
“It is very difficult to say at what stage the frozen chicken became infected,” said a China-based official at a Brazilian meat exporter.
The Shenzhen Epidemic Prevention and Control Headquarters said the public should take precautions to reduce the risks of infection from meat and seafood.
The Shaanxi provincial health commission, where Xian city is located, said authorities were testing people and the surrounding environment linked to contaminated shrimp products, which were sold at a local market.
In addition to examining all containers of meat and seafood coming to major ports in recent months, China has suspended several meat imports from various countries, including Brazil, since mid-June.
Seven Argentine meat processing plants are temporarily not exporting to China because they have registered cases of COVID-19 among their employees, a source from Argentina’s Senasa agricultural health agency said on Thursday.
The first group of COVID-19 cases was linked to the Huanan Sea market in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Initial studies suggested that the virus originated in animal products sold on the market.
Li Fengqin, who heads a microbiology lab at China National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment, told reporters in June the possibility of contaminated frozen food causing new infections cannot be ruled out.
Xinfadi Market, a food market spread across China’s capital, Beijing, was linked to a group of infections in June. Authorities said the virus was found on the market on a board in which imported salmon was taken.
How the virus entered the market in Xinfadi in the first place has not yet been determined, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said in its latest investigation update in July. The market will reopen by the weekend.
Reporting by Roxanne Liu in Beijing, David Stanway in Shanghai and Jake Spring in Brasilia; Additional reports from Shivani Singh in Beijing, Naveen Thukral in Singapore, Ana Mano in Sao Paulo, Tom Polansek in agoikago and Maximilian Heath in Buenos Aires; Writing by Caroline Stauffer; Edited by Tom Hogue and Rosalba O’Brien