Did the coronavirus really come from frozen food, as the WHO suggests?



A worker in China wearing protective clothing packages frozen beef

A employee packages frozen steak for export at a beef processing plant in Binzhou, in japanese China’s Shandong province.

STR/AFP through Getty Photographs

Did the virus that precipitated a worldwide pandemic make the soar to people through frozen meals? That was one speculation put ahead on 9 January by a joint World Well being Group and China investigation into the origins of SARS-CoV-2.

Frozen animals had been discovered on sale at Huanan market in Wuhan, the crew stated. Peter Ben Embarek, head of the investigation, stated: “We all know the virus can survive in circumstances which can be present in these chilly, frozen environments, however we don’t actually perceive if the virus can transmit to people.”


The idea that the coronavirus was carried inside or on the floor of frozen meals, which has been superior by Chinese language state media, may place the supply of the virus past China, from an animal imported from one other nation.

But it’s removed from clear whether or not the virus may survive in an infectious type through frozen meals. “I’d say it’s extraordinarily, extraordinarily unlikely the virus would have unfold by that sort of route,” says Lawrence Younger on the College of Warwick, who specialises in human virology.

The explanation, says Younger, is that SARS-CoV-2 is an enveloped virus, that means it’s coated with a fatty, lipid membrane that it makes use of to contaminate human cells. This membrane could be very susceptible to any cycles of freezing and thawing, as can occur through the transit and sale of frozen meals. Stripped of their envelope, such viruses can not infect individuals.

A assessment by Chinese language researchers of proof on spreading the coronavirus through meals concluded that “main information gaps exist” on the function that frozen meals performs. “Information are missing on the long-term survival of SARS-CoV-2 beneath freezing temperatures (-10°C to -20°C) which can be incessantly encountered on the storage and transport of frozen meals,” the crew wrote.

Simply one research, a preprint, has tried to acquire that knowledge. Researchers put the virus in cubes of pork, rooster and salmon, and located no decline within the viral load after 21 days in a lab at refrigeration temperatures of 4°C or a normal freezing temperature of -20°C. Nonetheless, it’s not clear whether or not the viral load was nonetheless infectious to people, and the experimental parameters could not replicate actual world viral masses or circumstances in provide chains.

SARS-CoV-2 could have a tough time when frozen meals is transported. Throughout air journey, temperatures drop to between -20°C and -30°C in cargo holds when planes are airborne, to a a lot larger temperature once they land. By ship, Tang says the virus may endure from the “salty air subject”, the place salt ranges within the air can have an effect on the variety of viruses.

Modifications in humidity on a frozen meals’s journey may additionally negatively have an effect on SARS-CoV-2, because the lipid membrane could be disrupted by taking over fluid from the air.

We do know the virus has been discovered to persist on the packaging of frozen meals. After two staff at Qingdao port in China examined constructive in September 2020, SARS-CoV-2 was discovered on 50 out of 421 samples of frozen cod packaging. The opposite potential route is the virus being transported contained in the frozen meat or fish itself. “If it’s a part of the meat it has extra safety,” says Julian Tang on the College of Leicester, UK.

Nonetheless, Rodney Rohde at Texas State College in San Marcos, says that regardless of the virus being discovered on packaging, it doesn’t imply it’s in a viable state that would infect our cells. “One should keep in mind that any viral genetic materials could also be discovered on all forms of surfaces, together with frozen surfaces. However molecular PCR exams [that identify the presence of the virus] don’t differentiate ‘viable’ from ‘non-viable’ virus,” he says.

Even when the virus was nonetheless in an infectious type by the point it reached an individual in Huanan market, there are nonetheless questions over how they had been truly contaminated. Cooking the meat would kill the virus, as would the gastric acid in our stomachs, says Younger. Nonetheless, if the meals was uncooked or not correctly cooked, individuals may probably be contaminated from surfaces throughout meals preparation or through the higher respiratory tract whereas chewing the meals.

“Total the chance [of infection via frozen food] is low. [But] if it occurs as soon as, a one in one million occasion, and it’s sufficient to seed the virus within the human inhabitants, you may get that unfold,” says Tang.

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