WHO says Covid-19 does not appear to spread through contaminated food as China and New Zealand investigate it

The statement comes after China found traces of the virus on imported meat products

                            WHO says Covid-19 does not appear to spread through contaminated food as China and New Zealand investigate it
(Getty Images)

The new coronavirus does not appear to spread through food or packaging, the World Health Organization (WHO) said, urging people not to panic. The statement comes after China reportedly found traces of the virus on imported meat products. Further, New Zealand -- which went for over 100 days without local cases -- is also investigating new infections linked to frozen food packaging.

"There is no evidence that food or the food chain is participating in the transmission of this virus. And people should feel comfortable and safe," the WHO's head of emergencies program Mike Ryan told a press briefing in Geneva. 

WHO's technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove said China had tested a few hundred thousand samples and found "very, very few, less than 10 positive in doing that," she said. "We know that the virus can remain on surfaces for some time. But on food, the virus can be killed when the meat is cooked.

On 13 August, Chinese officials found traces of the new coronavirus in a sample of frozen chicken wings in the southern city of Shenzhen. The country has been screening imported food products since June when they linked new cases in Beijing to the Xinfadi seafood market.

After finding traces of the virus, Shenzhen's health authorities conducted elaborate testing and tracing of everyone who may have been exposed to the potentially contaminated food products. All results returned negative, they said. "It is hard to say at which stage the frozen chicken got infected," said a China-based official at a Brazilian meat exporter.

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The chicken wings were imported from Brazil. In response, Brazil’s Agriculture Ministry said China has not officially notified them about the matter, adding that they are seeking clarification from their Chinese counterparts over the contaminated reports. The previous day, on 12 August, a packaging of frozen shrimp from Ecuador tested positive for the new coronavirus.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, officials detected new cases this week. One of the initial infections was traced to a worker who was handling imported products at a frozen food storage facility. "We're not ruling anything out," said Ashley Bloomfield, New Zealand's Director-General of Health, during a Wednesday press conference. "We do know from studies overseas that actually, the virus can survive in some refrigerated environments for quite some time."

What does the CDC say?

Coronaviruses appear to spread through respiratory droplets. "Currently, there is no evidence to support the transmission of Covid-19 associated with food," the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), wrote on its website.

The US Food and Drug Administration also agreed. "At this time, there is no evidence of transmission of the Covid-19 virus, a respiratory virus, through food or food packaging, and the FDA does not anticipate that food products would need to be recalled or be withdrawn from the market because of Covid-19," they said on their website.

Cooking food properly can kill other germs

The CDC encourages people to separate raw meat from other foods, refrigerate foods that are likely to spoil, decay, and cook meat to the right temperature to kill harmful germs. They also urge people to wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before eating.

"There are many others why we need to cook our food properly. There are many other contaminants of food that occurs," Ryan said during the briefing. "But I think we should not be placing Covid as a risk in this area," he added.

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