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Don’t Blame Frozen Food Packaging for Covid-19 Infection Transmission

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Responding to the spread of misleading information in a rare joint statement, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have emphasized that there is zero epidemiological and scientific proof linking the contagion of Covid-19 through food or food packaging.

“After more than a year since the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak was declared a global health emergency, the USDA, FDA and CDC continue to underscore that there is no credible evidence of food or food packaging associated with or as a likely source of viral transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus causing Covid-19,” began the statement.

It continued: “Our confidence in the safety of the US food supply remains steadfast. Consumers should be reassured that we continue to believe, based on our understanding of currently available reliable scientific information, and supported by overwhelming international scientific consensus, that the foods they eat and food packaging they touch are highly unlikely to spread SARS-CoV-2.

“It’s particularly important to note that Covid-19 is a respiratory illness that is spread from person to person, unlike foodborne or gastrointestinal viruses, such as norovirus and hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food. While there are relatively few reports of the virus being detected on food and packaging, most studies focus primarily on the detection of the virus’ genetic fingerprint rather than evidence of transmission of virus resulting in human infection. Given that the number of virus particles that could be theoretically picked up by touching a surface would be very small and the amount needed for infection via oral inhalation would be very high, the chances of infection by touching the surface of food packaging or eating food is considered to be extremely low.”

International Consensus

The USDA and the FDA are sharing this update based upon the best available information from scientific bodies across the globe, including a continued international consensus that the risk is exceedingly low for transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to humans via food and food packaging. For example, a recent opinion from the International Commission on Microbiological Specifications for Foods (ICMSF) stated: 

“Despite the billions of meals and food packages handled since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, to date there has not been any evidence that food, food packaging or food handling is a source or important transmission route for SARS-CoV-2 resulting in Covid-19.” 

In addition, considering the more than 100 million cases of Covid-19, there has not been epidemiological evidence of food or food packaging as the source of SARS-CoV-2 transmission to humans. Furthermore, transmission has not been attributed to food products or packaging through national and international surveillance systems. Food business operations continue to produce a steady supply of safe food following current Good Manufacturing Practices and preventive controls, focusing on good hygiene practices and keeping workers safe.

NFI Comments

“The joint statement is an example of experts adhering to science and translating that high-level understanding into an important public health message,” said Lisa Weddig, vice president for regulatory and technical affairs at the McLean, Virginia-headquartered National Fisheries Institute (NFI).

“From epidemiologists to biologists, authorities are confident in the safety of the seafood supply and, what’s more, health experts cite seafood’s role in supporting a healthy immune system,” said Weddig.

The groups noted that a recent opinion from the International Commission on Microbiological Specifications for Foods said, “Despite the billions of meals and food packages handled since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, to date there has not been any evidence that food, food packaging or food handling is a source or important transmission route for [the disease].”

NFI encourages companies and countries to ensure their actions and policies are based on this scientific fact.

Trace Records Required in PRC

Meanwhile, on February 12 a regulation reportedly went effect in Beijing requiring  all imported frozen meat, seafood, vegetables, fruit, desserts, grain products and beverages to have full trace of origin documentation and nucleic acid test data available to consumers via scannable QR codes.

According to a report made by Liu Wei on the China Global Television Network (CGTN): “Wang Jianqiao, a market supervisor in Beijing’s Haidian District, advised customers to reduce direct contact with imported frozen foods by wearing gloves and cooking the food thoroughly.”

The dispatch purported that viruses can “survive longer in low-temperature environments as well as in seafood markets and logistics stations that are comparatively confined and crowded and therefore is easier to transmit.”

Chinese authorities claim to have detected coronavirus on the surface of some imported frozen food packages and even fruits. Fortunately, “there have been no reported cases of consumers contracting the novel coronavirus from purchasing or having contaminated food,” stated Li Ning, deputy chief of the China National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment. He added that the positive rate of viruses on imported food packaging is extremely low as the virus is unable to reproduce.

Does WHO Have a Clue?

Who knows where the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) originated?Apparently not the experts at WHO.

After spending almost four weeks in January and February of this year (14 days of which were in quarantine) in Wuhan, the Hubei Province capital city where the pandemic broke out in early 2020, a team of investigators from the World Health Organization has reportedly concluded that the bug that by now has been attributed to the deaths of almost 2.5 million people and infected 112 million globally, was not likely engineered and/or leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s Biosafety Level 4 Laboratory. The facility just happens to have been engaged as an active research center for the study of coronavirus for many years.

Meanwhile, interestingly enough, WHO investigators did not rule out that the virus may have arrived in China aboard the packaging of imported frozen food products, though as detailed above, there is no evidence to support the notion. Furthermore, during a February 9 news conference with WHO investigators, Chinese representatives pushed for the inclusion of cold chain products as a subject of further investigation.

Keeping an Eye on the Ball

A Japanese expert from the World Health Organization who visited Wuhan this month is skeptical about China’s attempt to blame the coronavirus spread on the cold chain food distribution system.

The Japan Times reported that Ken Maeda, a veterinary microbiologist at Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases, believes “the possibility is not so high” that the virus arrived in Wuhan on frozen food packaging.” Furthermore, he has called for additional investigation into key sites at the initial epicenter of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile in Washington, Jake Sullivan, national security advisor in the recently empowered Biden Administration, insists that China has not provided “sufficient original data” on the origins of the coronavirus and has called for more investigation into the matter.

“We need a credible, open, transparent international investigation led by the World Health Organization,” stated Sullivan during a television appearance on February 21, three days after the WHO appeared to have given the Wuhan lab a pass regarding any possible connection to viral outbreak.

While CBS “Face the Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan made no reference to the fact that at least three of the WHO investigators have past links to the Wuhan lab that could be considered problematic, she did ask the national security advisor if he believed that the World Health Organization was “being manipulated” by the Chinese government.

Sullivan replied: “The only way to have a scientifically-based investigation is to have access to all of the data…not merely to know what happened in this pandemic, but to be able to prevent future pandemics as well, because the lessons we learned this time around will apply in the future.”

When asked to weigh in on assertions made by the former Trump administration that SARS-CoV-2 was created in a Chinese laboratory, he responded: “I am not in a position – nor is the Biden administration in a position – to make a determination about precisely where Covid-19 originated. And that’s in part because there has not been sufficient transparency coming from the government of China, and the WHO still has more work to do to get the bottom of exactly where this virus emerged.”

Certifying the origin of the virus is crucial in order to guard against  recurrence of such a calamity that has brought so much death, misery and economic destruction to the world over the past year and continues into 2021.