Active Covid was found on frozen food packaging in China - but do imported products pose a risk?

Imports from a Chilean seafood producer have been halted in China after Covid-19 was detected on the food packaging.

A nucleic acid test on a bath of frozen crab produced a positive result for the virus, the General Administration of Customs confirmed in a statement on Saturday 28 November.

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‘Precautionary measure’

Import applications from Pesquera Isla Del Rey have now been suspended for one week as a precautionary measure.

The discovery is just one of several cases where traces of the virus has been found on packaging and food, sparking concerns that imported items could be linked to resurgences in infections.

Earlier in October, China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention detected active Covid-19 on the packaging of a refrigerated food item in the coastal city of Qingdao in Shandong province. Wuhan, where the pandemic first broke out, has also reported three incidences of contamination on imported frozen food packaging, with samples producing a positive result for the virus.

Elsewhere, the city of Huozhou in north China’s Shanxi Province found active Covid-19 on the packaging of imported frozen freshwater shrimp from Ecuador earlier this month.

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Local authorities sealed and quarantined the products and conducted nucleic acid tests on personnel who had come into direct contact with the food, with all results coming back negative.

Do imported goods pose a risk?

China has previously tested product packaging from various countries and found positive cases of the virus, with several incidents in recent months suggesting that imported refrigerated goods pose a risk of re-introducing Covid-19.

The possibility of infection from contaminated surfaces has seen the country subsequently ban a number of imported items, including seafood from Indonesia and chicken wings from Brazil, following positive tests on shipping containers and food packaging.

The country has also increased its efforts to minimise the risks of infection from imported goods, with the Ministry of Transport releasing new guidelines in mid-November to help combat transmission through imported cold-chain foods in road and water transportation.

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The State Council has vowed to conduct complete disinfection of imported cold-chain foods, conduct testing at the ports and ensure all products that enter the market are traceable.

However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has dismissed claims that imported food items pose a health risk, with experts suggesting there is no evidence the virus can be transported via food packaging.

The WHO said that coronavirus cannot multiply in food, as they need a live animal or human host in order to multiply and survive.

The main priority of food manufacturers is to keep the virus out of the food environment by ensuring stringent cleaning and sanitation measures are in place. This includes disinfecting surfaces and high touch points, hand washing and social distancing.