A report issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 29 about the origins of novel coronavirus concludes that it is unlikely that frozen food imports or packaging were connected to the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China that became a pandemic attributed to the deaths and illnesses of millions of people around the world. This was a among a number of findings reached by international health experts who conducted a study in the PRC from January 14-February 10, 2021, approximately a year after the viral outbreak was officially reported by Chinese authorities.
As spelled out on page 118 of the 120-page document: “There is no conclusive evidence for foodborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and the probability of a cold chain contamination with the virus from a reservoir is very low. While there is some evidence for possible reintroduction of SARS-CoV-2 through handling of imported contaminated frozen products in China since the initial pandemic wave, this would be extraordinary in 2019 where the virus was not widely circulating. Industrial food production has high levels of hygiene criteria and is regularly audited. Most viruses have been found in 2020 in low concentrations and are not amplified on cold chain products. It is not clear what the infection route would be (possibly oral, touch, or aerosol). There is no evidence of infection in any of the animals tested following the Wuhan outbreak. Risk assessments have concluded that the risk of foodborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 through these known transmission pathways is very low in comparison with respiratory transmission.”
The bottom line, according to the WHO report, is that while there remained a “possible” chance, there is no conclusive evidence that frozen food played any role in the spread of the virus.
Last June 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. In July the Chinese government announced the suspension of shrimp imports from Ecuador after allegedly identifying traces of novel coronavirus on outer packaging of frozen shipments from the South American country. However, test results on inner packaging proved negative.
In August shrimp imports from certain suppliers in Ecuador resumed following inspections carried out by the General Administration of Customs of China (GACC) confirming safety standards required by the Chinese government were met.
USDA, FDA and CDC Previously Weighed In
In February, responding to the spread of misleading information, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 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.”