Last month imported salmon from Europe was erroneously linked to a cluster outbreak of Covid-19 in Beijing, resulting in panicky removal of product from grocery store shelves. This week the Chinese government announced the suspension of shrimp imports from Ecuador after allegedly identifying traces of novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) on outer packaging of frozen shipments from the South American country. However, test results on inner packaging proved negative.
Bi Kexin, director of the Bureau of Import and Export Food Safety, China General Administration of Customs, issued the following statement:
“As of 24:00 yesterday (July 9), the customs houses across the country had collected 227,934 samples. Among them there were 43,964 product samples, 137,568 parcel samples, and 36,402 samples from the surroundings. Of all these samples, a sample collected by Dalian Customs from the interior wall of a container full of frozen white shrimps produced by Ecuadorian company Industrial Pesquera Santa Priscila S.A. and samples collected from three product parcels produced by Empacreci S.A. were tested positive in nucleic acid tests on July 3. On the same day, Xiamen Customs found samples collected from two parcels belonging to Ecuadorian company Empacadora Del Pacifico Sociedad Anonima Edpacif S.A.”
He added, however: “The test result doesn’t mean the virus is contagious, but reflects the loopholes in companies’ food safety regulations. Customs will further strengthen control of the origins of imported cold chain food.”
The Global Times, a mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, reported on July 10 that many online distribution platforms and restaurants in the PRC have halted sales or initiated recalls of Ecuadorian shrimp out of concern for safety.
It quoted Weng Qiang, a purchasing manager at Sunkfa Holding Group in Beijing, as stating that the test results announcement “will affect consumer confidence in the shrimps from the country, which is also something we value a lot, and accounts for about 5 to 10 percent of our total sales.”
Reuters has reported that two of the Ecuadorean companies cited in the test results issued sharply worded statements noting that the virus was found only within the walls of the container, adding that China was exaggerating the potential risks.
“It is regrettable that with the result of (coronavirus found) ‘inside the wall of the container’ they are tarnishing the reputation of our industry,” said Santiago Salem, president of Industrial Pesquera Santa Priscila. According to the Ecuador Aquaculture Association (CNA), the nation’s exports of shrimp from January to March of this year generated $908 million, up 12 percent over the like period in 2019. Shipments to China rose 59.4 percent year-on-year, with the PRC buying 56.9 percent of Ecuador’s white shrimp during the three-month period, and taking 82 percent of the total in April.
No Proof of Foodborne Spread of Pathogen
Meanwhile, the McLean, Virginia-headquartered National Fisheries on July 10 issued a statement on Covid-19 about the safety of imported shrimp, citing many points made last month when rumors began circulating in China that imported salmon was tied to a recent spike in coronavirus cases in the capital city.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been clear that there is no known transmission of the novel coronavirus from “food or food packaging,” and that there is “no reason to be concerned” about the virus passing in this way. Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, and the European Food Safety Agency reinforce this finding, reiterated NFI President John Connelly.
“In fact,” he pointed out, “the Chinese Customs announcement states they found no evidence of the virus on the inner packaging of the samples they tested, nor on the shrimp itself. In addition, the Chinese government emphasized humans would not get Covid from the shrimp, stating: ‘Experts judged that the result of the detection did not mean that it was transmissive.’
“Governments should follow the advice of the World Health Organization, which states: ‘Food has not been implicated in the transmission of Covid-19” and continues ‘testing of food or food surfaces for this virus is not recommended.’
“Simply stated, global public health experts continue to state that humans will not get coronavirus from frozen food or its packaging. Stating, implying, or reporting otherwise is just wrong.”