In September 2020, China suspended importing fishery products from Indonesia due to novel coronavirus contamination on outer packages. There were also reports of around 10 cases of SARS-CoV-2, the COVID-19 virus in the frozen products or its packaging from Russia. Further reports have highlighted safety issues on imported frozen foods.
There are two issues to be aware of in these reports.
Firstly, the tests conducted do not detect whether these were an active or dead virus. This is because the PCR test only detects the RNA of the virus. It cannot tell us if the virus was alive or not. The time it would have taken to transport the frozen goods may suggest that the virus was no longer alive, despite frozen temperatures being ideal for the preservation of the viral material.
Secondly, the frozen product itself did not test positive for the virus, but rather the outer packaging, of which we know is possible. The virus is able to survive without a host for a few hours to several days. This contamination points to poor hygiene practices of those who may have handled the packaging from packing, transport and distribution.
There is a large amount of evidence showing that meat and fish packing houses are at greater risk of human to human transmission of the virus because of the close proximity working conditions for staff in the warehouses. Social distancing in close to impossible to maintain, due to the nature of the work environment.
What do we know about food safety & the virus?
Food Safety can be defined as handling, preparing and storing food or drink in a way that best reduces the risk of consumers becoming sick from the food-borne disease. We know that SARS CoV-2 is a respiratory virus, which means you have breath in the virus either orally or via the nasal passage. Food safety risks involve foods being eaten and need to access your gut in order to cause harm.
What are the food safety risks?
Contamination of food and beverages can happen in a few ways:
- The food handler is ill or has handled raw foods without washing his/her hands. The person has not maintained good personal hygiene, ie. washed their hands after going to the toilet.
- Raw foods were not corrected heated in order to kill any bacteria or viruses present in the product.
- Poor temperature control allowing the growth of bacteria to dangerous levels that were present in low/safe numbers before.
- Cross-contamination due to poor storage or further handling.
- Incorrect cleaning or use of chemicals.
What do we know about controlling the virus?
- SARS CoV-2 is a respiratory virus
- Infection occurs by breathing in the virus from an infected individual or by contact of a contaminated surface, after which you touch your face, mouth or eyes causing infection.
- The virus is susceptible to detergent cleaners and various sanitisers.
Risk Of COVID-19 From Frozen Foods?
To be fair, we can’t with full confidence say: “there is no-risk of COVID-19 from frozen foods”. But, rather it is very unlikely that any infections have occurred as a result of consuming foods. As of the date of publishing, there have been zero reported cases. However, the reported cases mentioned in this article may have been as a result of handling contaminated packaging and not keeping good hygiene.
It is more likely that the reported cases were as a result of close contact with an infected person, rather than as a result of handling of the packaging. There is no conclusive evidence that can without a doubt show infection from the packaging directly.
How to minimise the risk of COVID-19 infections
As a reminder, there are 3 keys ways to prevent getting infected with the novel Coronavirus.
- Keep 1,5 – 2 meters (6ft) apart from another person.
- Wear a mask to minimise the risk of spreading the virus or from getting infected.
- Wash and sanitise your hands after handling any common use items or that you may suspect is contaminated with the virus.