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Concerns about the virus in food imports are real, says an expert

(Bloomberg) – There is a real risk of cross-border transmission of coronavirus through the global agricultural food market for $ 1.5 trillion, according to a scientist who studied the phenomenon.

Contaminated food imports may transmit the virus to both workers and the environment, said Dale Fisher, an infectious disease doctor at Singapore National University Hospital. Frozen food markets are believed to be a port in the first part of the transmission chain, he added.

“It’s moving food, infecting the first person to open the box,” Fischer, who is also chairman of the Global Warning and Response Network, said in an interview. “It should not be confused with supermarket shelves to become infected. It really was on the market before there were a lot of dilutions. “

In recent months, China has reported traces of the SARS-CoV-2 pathogen on packaging and food, raising fears that imported items are linked to recent viral objections. Beijing has ordered a number of precautions, creating major disruptions with its trading partners.

Although such a transfer remains a “strange”

; event, the scale of world food trade is such that it will happen several times over millions of imports and exports, Fisher said.

“Two schools”

This is a theory that has been downplayed by the World Health Organization and some Western countries. The WHO said recent evidence of epidemiology showed that the virus was “unlikely” to be transmitted from the surface of the human respiratory system, while the US Food and Drug Administration also said it was unaware of any evidence to suggest the disease. can be spread through food.

Outside of China, where authorities are increasingly assessing the possibility of the virus being transmitted and transmitted through food packaging, the theory is hardly mentioned or discussed. Fisher is one of the few international experts to study the sowing of outbreaks in contaminated fresh and frozen foods.

“There are two schools of thought, and the view of the minority that I hold is that there is a lot of circumstantial evidence,” Fisher said. “Many people may be against it because they don’t want to scare the world – food can be a source.”

Read more: The mystery grows over the virus spread through food packaging

Experiments by Fisher’s team show that the coronavirus can survive the time and temperatures associated with the transportation and storage conditions used in international food trade. The study, published in August, showed no weakening of the infectious virus after 21 days at standard food refrigeration and freezing temperatures when the pathogen was added to samples of chicken, salmon and pork.

The fact that the virus tends to thrive in cold and dry environments has made refrigerators ideal spaces for the spread of the pathogen. Meat plants and slaughterhouses, instead of schools and churches, are more likely to be hotspots for Covid-19 outbreaks, according to Fisher.

“It’s because there’s a lot of stainless steel on which it grows,” he said. “It’s cold, it’s crowded – it’s noisy, so people have to shout.”

China is scary

Earlier this month, authorities in the eastern Chinese coastal city of Qingdao said they had detected SARS-CoV-2 live on imported frozen seafood, with two port officials responsible for unloading refrigerated packages with positive results for the virus.

China has said several times in recent months that imported refrigerants pose a risk of reintroduction of the coronavirus into the country. It subsequently banned imported products, including seafood from Indonesia and chicken wings from Brazil, following positive tests on containers for transport and food packaging.

A June epidemic in Beijing sparked a boycott of salmon across the country when the virus was traced to the cutting board of an imported fish vendor. New Zealand, which maintains long virus-free sections, also said it was considering the possibility of one of its new clusters being connected to a refrigeration plant.

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Fischer argues that Asian countries are more likely to find evidence of food and packaging transfers, due to the current nature of outbreaks in many of these countries, as opposed to those in the West, which are now battling a second wave of infections. .

“You would never take it in the United States or in Europe, because you only take it if you go from scratch in 100 days and then have a small cluster,” he said. “You say, well, how did this little cluster start?”

To prevent this, food companies must ensure that workers are vigilant in wearing masks, washing their hands and regularly cleaning surfaces and utensils.

“And you have to make sure that all these outbreaks in meat processing plants stop,” he said.

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