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China is turning its attention to frozen foods in the battle to stamp out the virus threat, but experts remain skeptical

But small, scattered gatherings continued to emerge, despite some of the world’s strict border restrictions and quarantine measures.

Aside from incoming travelers, Chinese officials suspect the virus came from another culprit – the import of frozen food.

But China claims it has proven that it is possible to contract Covid-19 from food packaging and is redoubling its efforts to prevent it.

“More and more evidence is showing that frozen seafood or meat products can transmit viruses from countries with outbreaks to China,” said Wu Zhunyu, chief epidemiologist with the Chinese Center for Disease Control. He said this week.
Medical workers in protective suits collect samples of imported frozen beef for tests for coronavirus at a food factory in Shanghai, China.
During the past five months, China said it had detected traces of the Coronavirus Slow than Imported frozen food products or their packaging, including shrimp from Ecuador, squid from Russia, fish from Norway and Indonesia, beef and Chicken wings from Brazil. But experts say DNA tests in China may capture genetic parts of a dead virus, which is no longer contagious.
Then, last month, upon tracing the source of the outbreak in Qingdao, the Chinese CDC Advertise It has detected and isolated live corona virus on imported frozen cod fish packages – a discovery that it said was “the first in the world” and “confirmed that contact with the outer package contaminated with the live new coronavirus can cause infection.”

Tightening scrutiny

The Chinese CDC’s statement presented some unanswered questions. Qingdao officials said the outbreak was Traceable To two dockworkers who tested positive, but the CDC did not say whether these workers had contracted the virus from the contaminated package or other means.

Jin Dongyan, a professor of virology at the University of Hong Kong, said that while there is such a possibility, the CDC has not provided strong evidence of transmission. He said workers may have contracted the virus from elsewhere and then contaminated food packages. The missing step, he said, would be to compare the genetic sequences of the virus in Qingdao workers and people who have handled food at the import source.

“Every virus has its own markers. If they match, then we can say there is a chain of evidence,” he said.

However, Qingdao authorities tightened scrutiny and Command Every piece of imported cold chain products will be tested. He also ordered workers who unload, carry and transport these products to be inspected every three to five days.
The Chinese city of Qingdao has tested more than 10 million residents in just four days after a small cluster of Covid-19 cases in October.

This week, Chinese authorities tightened measures again, after a worker at a frozen food company in the coastal city of Tianjin tested positive for the virus at the end of last week.

The infection was discovered only after city officials were informed that a batch of German pork joints imported via Tianjin had tested positive for the Coronavirus in a neighboring province. to me truck driver Associated with the cold storage facility is also positive

The Chinese government announced, Monday, that all shipments of refrigerated and frozen food imports must be disinfected before they can enter the market. The requirement includes both the inner and outer packaging of these products, and the vehicles used to transport them.

“We will seriously implement preventive disinfection of cold chain food imports at ports of entry and strengthen inter-agency cooperation to stop importing Covid-19 through cold chain food products,” Bi Kexin, a senior official in charge of food safety in the General Administration of Customs, said at a press conference Thursday.

The extraordinary procedures are in addition to the comprehensive examination that has already been introduced.

As of Thursday, Chinese customs said it had stopped imports from 99 food companies across 20 countries as foreign factory workers were said to have contracted Covid-19.

Meanwhile, customs authorities across China have stepped up coronavirus tests on imports of frozen food, especially seafood. As of Thursday, they had conducted randomized screening checks on nearly 873,000 samples, of which 13 were said to be positive.

Companies whose products have been tested positive for temporary face Import suspension, It ranges from one to four weeks. So far, eight companies and six fishing vessels have been affected by the measure.

Blame the imports

China became suspicious of importing frozen food after the outbreak of the disease from Beijing’s largest wholesale food market in June.

Before that, Beijing had not reported any local infection in 56 days. Wu, chief epidemiologist at the CDC, He said At a time when the coronavirus entered the market either through contaminated seafood or meat imports, or through an infected person, investigations were needed to reach a conclusion.
Xinfadi, Beijing's largest wholesale food market, was the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the city in June.
Four months later, Wu was more confident. “(The outbreak of the virus in Beijing) was the first discovery and confirmation in the world that contaminated food could cause the spread of the new Covid-19 virus in other countries through cold chain transport. Tell Central Commission for Discipline Inspection on Tuesday.

Wu did not explain how he came to this conclusion, but Chinese scientists and other health officials have also cited the import of frozen seafood as the possible cause of the outbreak.

in a a study Published last month in National Science, a journal of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a team of experts, including from the Center for Disease Control in Beijing, concluded that imported frozen seafood was the likely source of the virus outbreak in Beijing.

Jin, a virologist from the University of Hong Kong, remains skeptical. “This is a very weak paper. Nothing can be said from the study,” he said.

But in China, health experts and state media have rapidly multiplied this theory. Some even in forecast That frozen food imports may have triggered the initial outbreak in Wuhan last December – a claim that Jin and other leading experts dismissed as totally unfounded.
Beijing is ordering importers to avoid frozen food from countries where the Coronavirus has spread
Previously, Chinese media and officials Promotion Unfounded allegations that the Coronavirus originated outside of China – as it is in the United States, in part to blame China for spreading the virus to the world.
Amid growing concerns about imports of frozen food, on Chinese social media, some did call To hang all these products. But the Chinese CDC says the risks to consumers are very low.
There are other factors that play a role as well. Chinese experts Owns warned A total ban would be impractical and potentially destabilizing, given the high demand for frozen products from Chinese consumers.
In 2019, China imported more than 4.8 million metric tons of meat and 6.2 million metric tons of aquatic products, state radio CCTV reported, Citing customs data. To stabilize supplies during the pandemic, imports have increased further this year, with 4.7 million metric tons of meat imported in the first six months alone, according to CCTV.

Is it possible to catch Covid-19 from food or packaging?

Coronavirus is spread mostly from person to person via respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. While it is technically possible to catch Covid-19 from food or packaging, experts say it requires the convergence of a series of low-probability events.

First, the infected worker will need to contaminate the food or its packaging with a viral load high enough to cause an infection – perhaps by sneezing, coughing, or yelling at it without a face mask.

Then, the virus must survive a long international cargo flight and remain active on the surface while it waits to be unloaded and unloaded. From there, a food processor on the receiving end will have to touch the virus before it touches its nose or mouth to become infected.

Why not worry about catching the Coronavirus from food

Previous studies have shown that the viability of the new Corona virus varies from hours to weeks, depending on a number of factors, including temperature, humidity and the type of surface it is on.

One a study The publication in the New England Journal of Medicine, for example, found that the virus can remain viable for up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel at room temperature, while another was found. a study In The Lancet, I found this period of up to six days.
The virus, which may survive better in cold, dry environments, may remain intact for longer as the temperature drops. “In general, corona viruses are very stable in a state of freezing according to other corona virus studies, which have shown survival for up to two years at -20 ° C (-4 ° F),” did you say. According to th The Lancet Study, The new corona virus can survive at 4 ° C (39 ° F) – cryogenic temperature – – under ideal laboratory conditions for more than 14 days.

The ‘zero tolerance’ approach

Dale Fisher, an infectious disease specialist at the National University of Singapore, is studying how long the new coronavirus can live on chilled and frozen meats and salmon. His findings will be used to assess the potential for disease outbreaks resulting from food imports.

He said Workers on the receiving end of food shipments should practice good hygiene by keeping their work surfaces clean and washing their hands frequently. But he does not believe that consumers are at risk of contracting the virus from frozen or chilled food packages, because every time the product is moved or touched, the virus is diluted.

“Because if it is not uncommon for those who handle food early, then down the list, when it is brushed, wiped, moved, placed on a shelf and moved to another shelf … consumers).

Fisher said that in most countries, even if imported frozen foods strike a food processor, they will not be noticed due to the large number of active cases. “You will only notice it in countries that have no cases,” he said.

In August, when the New Zealand outbreak ended for a period of 100 days without community transmission, experts and authorities also suspected that the virus may have been introduced via frozen foods, in part because one of the first known carriers was operating in a cold storage facility. But the investigation is later exclude That theory.

On the other hand, China has doubled down on overseas shipments. But Fischer said that the widespread testing China is publishing may not apply to other countries where infections are common.

“It is clear that in the United States and Europe, there will be no benefit at all in food testing, because there are a lot of cases that people are spreading,” he said. But China does not really tolerate Covid-19.

“When there are trillions of tons of food moving around the world, even an unexpected event will happen multiple times.”

But even if there is such a risk, there is no need to ban food imports, according to Fisher.

He said: “The intervention is only to ensure that the food source has obtained safe measures from Covid so that the food does not become contaminated.” “We’re not saying stop sending food around the world.”

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