New Zealand reported its first case of COVID-19 in more than 100 days on Tuesday. It is possible for the virus to arrive through imported food packages.
The country’s health officials have suggested that the new outbreak may be related to these frozen goods, as one of the infected patients works in a store that orders such items from abroad, Reuters reported on Thursday.
Chinese authorities announced similar news this week: Traces of the virus were found on frozen packages of shrimp and chicken wings imported from Ecuador and Brazil, respectively.
The Shenzhen Municipal Health Commission, where officials found the contaminated chicken wings, warned residents to be “cautious when buying imported frozen meat products and aquatic products in recent days,”
But experts say the chances of catching COVID-19 from frozen food are slim.
“It’s possible, but the virus isn’t very stable outside the human body,” Caitlin Howell, a chemical and biomedical engineer at the University of Maine, told Business Insider.
She added that “freezing or cooling the virus can help extend the period of time it remains infected, which is why we believe that outbreaks in meat processing plants are so common, but surface transmission still seems rare – even when these surfaces are frozen or chilled. “
So far, the Shenzhen Health Commission has said that no one who comes in contact with frozen food has tested positive for COVID-19.
You probably don’t have to worry about touching frozen food
Chinese health officials have discovered coronavirus on frozen packaging before. Packages of frozen seafood transported by foreign ship to Yantai also have traces of viruses, NBC News reports. (The origin of these packages is unknown.) They also found coronavirus on imported frozen foods in Dalian, Xiamen and Pingsyang last month.
But those findings are not a cause for concern, according to Michael Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s Emergency Program.
“There is no evidence that food or the food chain is involved in transmitting this virus, and people need to feel comfortable and safe,” Ryan told a news briefing Thursday, adding: “People should not be afraid of food. or food packaging “or food processing and delivery. “
China has tested several hundred thousand packaging samples and less than 10 have returned positive, the WHO said.
That’s because the virus – if it wraps around such packaging at all – is unlikely to survive the time it takes to transport goods from one place to another, according to Rachel Graham, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina.
“Even frozen, on a surface like this, you’ll see the virus dry up and dry out, making it completely non-infectious,” Graham told Business Insider, adding that the “freeze-thaw process” could kill him.
Moreover, she said that Chinese officials may have found viral RNA on the packaging, which is not a big threat.
“While RNA is virologically infectious, it is virtually non-existent,” she said.
Coronavirus can persist on surfaces, but is unlikely to make you sick
A person can get a coronavirus if they touch a surface or object that has virus particles on it, and then touch their mouth, nose or eyes. The duration of the virus on objects depends on the type of material: One study found that it took three hours for the virus to leave tissue and printed paper, while other studies showed that viral particles could live up to a day in cardboard and up to three days of plastic and stainless steel.
But the coronavirus usually spreads through airborne droplets (and possibly aerosols) rather than through shared surfaces.
“Throughout the pandemic, products have continued to be shipped around the world. If transmission through surfaces – frozen or refrigerated or not – was a major driver of infection, we would see many cases, “Howell said, adding,” The fact that we don’t assume it’s not a major route of infection. “
In fact, the CDC says the virus “does not spread easily” from contaminated surfaces, although the agency continues to recommend that people “routinely clean and disinfect” high-touch surfaces just in case.
Precautions to reduce the risk of transmission of coronavirus to surfaces
Both Howell and Graham recommend shippers and buyers to be vigilant and diligent during a pandemic.
“The best thing that can be done by manufacturers, shippers and others in the supply chain is to have a strong, imposed policy of wearing masks, washing hands and staying home when she is sick,” Howell said.
For individual buyers, she added: “The best thing consumers need to do is simply avoid touching their face until they can wash their hands or use hand sanitizer.”
Your chance of touching a virus-infected surface in a public store is much, far greater than encountering the virus on frozen food, according to Graham.
“It’s not something you have to worry about, but you have to keep aware of what you’re touching and then put it on your face. It will protect you the most,” she said.
Morgan McFall-Johnsen contributed to the report on this story.