A government agency, industry association and the affected company in Brazil have responded to Chinese claims that a chicken wing sample has tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.
Health authorities in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, noted the detection of coronavirus nucleic acid on the surface of a frozen chicken wing sample from a batch imported from Brazil. Other samples from this batch were collected, analyzed and results were negative.
Shenzhen officials reported that everyone who handled or came into contact with the material tested negative for COVID-19. China has also found traces of the virus on the packaging of imported shrimp from Ecuador.
The National Chicken Council reaffirmed the safety of poultry products following reports of chicken wings from Brazil testing positive for coronavirus. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.
Brazil seeks official clarity
The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply (MAPA) in Brazil has been seeking official information to clarify the alleged contamination but said it had not been officially notified by Chinese authorities about the incident.
A Brazilian meat plant owned by Aurora was named as the source of the implicated product. A company statement said it, like MAPA, was awaiting official confirmation by authorities in China.
Faced with unsubstantiated details as to what happened, Aurora said it would wait for the appropriate information from authorities before clarifying the facts and providing details to officials.
The statement added all measures established by public authorities to fight against the pandemic are being followed. It also stressed that its production process complies with all current legal and health requirements.
ABPA, the national association of poultry and pork production and exports in Brazil, said measures to protect workers and guarantee safety of products had been adopted by the sector.
The group said traces of the virus were detected on the packaging but it was not yet clear when this occurred and if it was during the export process.
WHO comments and global developments
Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead COVID-19, addressed the topic at a World Health Organization briefing on Thursday.
“What we understand is that China is looking for the virus on packaging and they’ve tested a few hundred thousand samples and have found less than 10 positives. We have issued guidance with FAO on food handlers and working with frozen food to keep people safe in their working environment,” she said.
“We know the virus can remain on surfaces for some time but it can be inactivated if you wash your hands or use an alcohol-based rub. If the virus is actually in food, and we have no examples where this virus has been transmitted as foodborne, where someone has consumed a food product, the virus can be killed if the meat is cooked.”
Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, said from a COVID perspective food is safe.
“People should not fear food, food packaging, the processing or delivery. I would hate to think that we would create an impression that there is a problem with our food chains, they are under enough pressure as it is already. We will continue to track findings like this but there is no evidence that food or the food chain is participating in transmission of this virus,” he said.
The Philippines has temporarily stopped poultry imports from Brazil and the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) in Hong Kong has suspended the license application for import of poultry meat from the plant concerned.
Preliminary investigations found the concerned batch of chicken wings was not on sale in Hong Kong. As a precaution, the CFS has enhanced sampling of frozen chicken meat from Brazil at import and wholesale levels for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).