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China reports further food-related coronavirus findings

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China continues to report the presence of coronavirus on imported food products and packaging.

Recent reports include detection of COVID-19 on packages of shrimp from Saudi Arabia, fish from India, beef from Brazil and Argentina, and pork from Germany.

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) said infection via pork is unlikely based on current knowledge.

The National Service of Agri-Food Health and Quality (SENASA) in Argentina said it was the first time there had been such an incident in products from the country since the pandemic began and it was investigating.

The shipment had entered through the port of Shanghai. On Nov. 9, part of it was transferred to a cold store in Nanjing City, the capital of Jiangsu. On Nov. 10, prior to release to the market, Nanjing authorities tested the product and detected nucleic acid on the outer packaging.

China’s testing focus
Previous incidents have mentioned imported salmon from Norway, chicken from Brazil and shrimp from Ecuador — or their packaging — has tested positive for the virus after Chinese testing.

Since July, SARS-CoV-2 RNA contamination in frozen food imported from countries with epidemics have been reported in at least nine provinces in China.

In August, Chinese scientists concluded the virus was introduced as part of cold chain transmission when salmon was brought into a wholesale market, causing a large outbreak in Beijing in June.

In the same month, the city of Shenzhen in South China imposed COVID-19 handling and testing requirements for imports of frozen meat and seafood. This includes package disinfection and nucleic acid tests at a centralized warehouse before they are distributed for storage, sales and processing. Chinese importers are also requesting food exporters sign a COVID-19 declaration referred to in a China Customs (GACC) document.

In September, GACC announced measures for overseas manufacturers of imported food and packaging positive with nucleic acid for COVID-19 on entry to China. A manufacturer can have up to two positive tests, with their imports suspended for seven days each time. For subsequent positive tests of the same products, suspension will be for 28 days for each occurrence before being automatically lifted.

The International Commission for Microbiological Specifications of Foods (ICMSF) has previously said it is highly unlikely that SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a food safety risk.

Is there a risk from food or packaging?
Guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) for businesses also states it is highly unlikely that people can contract COVID-19 from food or food packaging.

The risk of getting sick with COVID-19 from eating or handling food, including frozen food and produce and food packages, is considered very low. It is possible a person can get it by touching a surface or object, including food or packaging, that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose, or possibly eyes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A study, published in the November edition of the journal Trends in Food Science & Technology found proper treatment of food and applying hygiene rules in industry, shops and households may prevent infections.

Another study, published in the Virology Journal, measured survival rates of SARS-CoV-2 on stainless steel, glass, vinyl, paper and polymer banknotes, and cotton cloth. Researchers don’t know the infectious dose of SARS-CoV-2 but it has been estimated at about 300 particles. Findings indicate the 28-day sample would not contain enough viable virus to infect a person.

It’s not yet confirmed how long the virus survives or remains detectable on surfaces. Studies suggest it may be range from a few hours to several weeks. This depends on type of surface, temperature and humidity of the environment.

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