The new study’s finding has sparked fears about coronavirus spreading through contaminated food.
The novel coronavirus can survive for up to three weeks on pork, poultry, and fish in the freezer, reveals a new study titled: Seeding of outbreaks of COVID-19 by contaminated fresh and frozen food.
To test the hypothesis of whether the virus can survive under extreme temperatures, scientists procured individual pieces of salmon, chicken and pork from supermarkets in Singapore and inoculated 500 samples after slicing the meat into cubes.
The infected samples were then stored at 3 different temperatures: 40C, (refrigeration) -200C and -800C (frozen) to mimic the conditions in which meat products are generally transported between countries.
Contaminated food may cause outbreaks
After thawing the samples at various time points, the researchers found that infectious coronavirus was still thriving on all the sample cubes after 21 days.
In light of this new piece of information from the study, scientists warn that contaminated food may cause outbreaks although the study has not been peer reviewed.
“An explanation is required for the re-emergence of Covid-19 outbreaks in regions with apparent local eradication.
“Importation of contaminated food and food packaging is a feasible source for [coronavirus] outbreaks and a source of clusters within existing outbreaks.”
Vector for viral spread
While the study clarifies that the risk of infectivity after eating virus contaminated food is quite remote, it posits that surface contamination of the food could potentially be a vector for spread of the virus once it comes in contact with a human.
“While it can be confidently argued that transmission via contaminated food is not a major infection route, the potential for movement of contaminated items to a region with no Covid-19 and initiate an outbreak is an important hypothesis,” the study states.
“We believe it is possible that contaminated imported food can transfer the virus to workers as well as the environment.
“An infected food handler has the potential to become an index case of a new outbreak. The international food market is massive and even a very unlikely event could be expected to occur from time to time.”
‘Non-traditional food safety risk’
The findings in part explain the reemergence of cases in areas that had previously reported eradication or had not reported COVID-19 cases for long periods such as Vietnam, New Zealand and parts of China.
Earlier this month, Chinese officials suspended imports of salmon from Europe and frozen shrimp cargoes from South America after detecting traces of coronavirus on its shipment to avoid a potential outbreak.
“Our findings, coupled with the reports from China of SARS-CoV-2 being detected on imported frozen chicken and frozen shrimp packaging material, should alert food safety competent authorities and the food industry of a “new normal” environment where this virus is posing a non-traditional food safety risk,” concludes the study.
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