A police officer outside the Xinfadi wholesale market, which has been closed for business after new coronavirus infections were detected, in Beijing, China, on June 13 2020. Picture: CNSPHOTO VIA RETUERS
A police officer outside the Xinfadi wholesale market, which has been closed for business after new coronavirus infections were detected, in Beijing, China, on June 13 2020. Picture: CNSPHOTO VIA RETUERS

Beijing/Minneapolis — Food poses little risk of spreading the coronavirus, health experts around the globe say, reassuring consumers after an outbreak in Beijing was blamed on imported fish.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it is “not aware of any evidence” to suggest that food can transmit the respiratory virus. The view was echoed by Kate Grusich, a spokesperson for the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who said the poor survivability of coronaviruses on surfaces means “there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging”.

Chile, the top seller of salmon after Norway, sought to persuade China that its fish is safe to import after orders were canceled. The Norwegian Food Safety Authority also said there were no known cases of infection via contaminated food.

Questions are being raised over the potential dangers of food after coronavirus infections were traced to the chopping board of a seller of imported salmon at a market in Beijing. Salmon has been taken off the shelves in major supermarkets while top experts are warning people not to consume the fish.

“There’s no evidence so far showing that salmon is the origin or intermediate host of the coronavirus,” said Shi Guoqing, an expert with the national health commission, in a briefing in Beijing on Tuesday.

Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist with the China CDC, said in an interview with state television on Monday that a positive result from a salmon chopping board “doesn’t indicate much”, as it could have been contaminated by workers or shoppers spraying droplets.

There are only a couple of examples of people having caught the coronavirus from animals. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN says that thoroughly cooked meat from healthy livestock is safe, but warns people to avoid meat from wild animals or sick livestock.

Health experts have confirmed that transmission can occur indirectly, by touching a contaminated surface or object, though the US CDC said in late May that this pathway probably isn’t the main way the virus spreads.

It’s unclear if the virus can be transmitted through frozen food that’s later thawed. David Hamer, a professor at Boston University School of Public Health and a physician at Boston Medical Centre, said that though there is no evidence that Covid-19 can be transmitted through food, more research is needed.

“That raises a whole lot of concerning prospects around the global movement of the food supply,” he said. “This could set off a panic if people think their food could be a cause of infection.”

Bloomberg