Science and Nature

Did the coronavirus truly reach from frozen food, as the WHO suggests?

By Adam Vaughan

A worker in China wearing protective clothing packages frozen beef

A worker applications frozen steak for export at a crimson meat processing plant in Binzhou, in jap China’s Shandong province

STR/AFP through Getty Images

Did the virus that brought a couple of worldwide pandemic make the soar to participants through frozen food? That change into once one hypothesis put ahead on 9 February by a joint World Health Group and Chinese investigation into the origins of SARS-CoV-2.

Frozen animals possess been found on sale at Huanan market in Wuhan, China, the set where the virus change into once in the initiating detected, the crew within the wait on of the work said. In a press convention, Peter Ben Embarek, the head of the investigation, said: “We know the virus can continue to exist in instances that are found in these frosty, frozen environments, but we don’t truly designate if the virus can transmit to participants.”


The foundation that the coronavirus change into once carried interior or on the skin of frozen food, which has been developed by Chinese speak media, could most definitely also set the source of the virus past China, from an animal imported from one other country.

Yet it is plot from sure whether the virus could most definitely also continue to exist in an infectious earn through frozen food. “I would shriek it’s extremely, extremely no longer seemingly the virus would possess unfold via that earn of route,” says Lawrence Young on the College of Warwick, UK, who specialises in human virology.

The reason why, in accordance with Young, is that SARS-CoV-2 is an enveloped virus, that come it is lined with a fatty, lipid membrane that it uses to contaminate human cells. This membrane is terribly at threat of cycles of freezing and thawing, as can happen all over the transit and sale of frozen food. Stripped of this envelope, such viruses can’t infect participants.

A review by Jie Han and Zue Zhang at Xi’an Jiaotong College and their colleagues of evidence on spreading the coronavirus through food concluded that “major recordsdata gaps exist” on the feature that frozen food plays. “Data are lacking on the long-time duration survival of SARS-CoV-2 below freezing temperatures (-10°C to -20°C) that are frequently encountered on the storage and transport of frozen foods,” the crew wrote.

Right one look, a preprint, has tried to earn that recordsdata. Researchers put the virus into cubes of pork, rooster and salmon, finding no decline within the viral load after 21 days in a lab at refrigeration temperatures of 4°C or at a passe freezing temperature of -20°C. Nonetheless, it isn’t sure whether the viral load change into once restful infectious to participants, and the experimental parameters could most definitely also just no longer replicate exact-world viral loads or instances in present chains.

SARS-CoV-2 could most definitely also just possess a tough time when frozen food is transported. At some stage in air tear, temperatures fall to between -20°C and -30°C in cargo holds when planes are airborne, rising to a grand better temperature when they land.

By ship, the virus could most definitely also suffer from the “salty air challenge”, in which salt phases within the air can possess an affect on the assortment of viruses that can continue to exist, says Julian Tang on the College of Leicester, UK. Adjustments in humidity on frozen food’s tear could most definitely also just additionally negatively possess an affect on SARS-CoV-2, as the lipid membrane will seemingly be disrupted by taking on fluid from the air.

We elevate out know that the virus has been found to persist on the packaging of frozen food. After two workers at Qingdao Port in China tested optimistic in September 2020, SARS-CoV-2 change into once found on 50 of 421 samples of frozen cod packaging. The other doable route is that if the virus is transported all the most realistic plot via the frozen meat or fish itself. “If it’s fragment of the meat, it has more protection,” says Tang.

Nonetheless, Rodney Rohde at Texas Train College says that no subject the virus being found on packaging, it doesn’t suggest it is in a viable speak that could most definitely also infect our cells. “One need to take into accout the real fact that any viral genetic cloth will seemingly be found on all forms of surfaces, including frozen surfaces. But molecular PCR checks [that identify the presence of the virus] elevate out no longer differentiate ‘viable’ from ‘non-viable’ virus.”

Although the virus change into once restful in an infectious earn by the time it reached a person in Huanan market, there are restful questions over how they possess been in reality contaminated. Cooking the meat would murder the virus, as would the gastric acid in our stomachs, says Young. Nonetheless, if the food change into once raw or no longer smartly cooked, participants could most definitely also potentially be contaminated from surfaces all over food preparation or during the simpler respiratory tract whereas chewing the food.

“Total, the prospect [of infection via frozen food] is low. [But] if it happens once, a one in 1,000,000 tournament, and it’s ample to seed the virus within the human population, you could most definitely also earn that unfold,” says Tang.

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