The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, pinpointed the presence of the virus—not just the genetic material—on meat that was previously refrigerated and frozen for roughly twenty-one days and later thawed.
The different meats were then stored in temperatures that simulated those in which food is transported between countries—39.2 degrees Fahrenheit for standard refrigeration and minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit for freezing.
The researchers discovered that even after three weeks had passed, the virus was still present on the samples.
“Importation of contaminated food and food packaging is a feasible source for such outbreaks and a source of clusters within existing outbreaks,” the study wrote.
“While it can be confidently argued that transmission via contaminated food is not a major infection route, the potential for movement of contaminated items to a region with no COVID-19 and initiate an outbreak is an important hypothesis. … An infected food handler has the potential to become an index case of a new outbreak. The international food market is massive and even a very unlikely event could be expected to occur from time to time.”
This particular study could also help explain certain outbreaks in countries where there weren’t any coronavirus cases for weeks at a time, the researchers noted.
“An explanation is required for the re-emergence of COVID-19 outbreaks in regions with apparent local eradication. Recent outbreaks have emerged in Vietnam, New Zealand and parts of China where there had been no cases for some months,” the study wrote.
“All citizens should be cautious in buying imported frozen meat products and aquatic products in recent days,” the commission warned the city’s twelve million citizens.
The World Health Organization, however, quickly reassured the public that the contagion likely does not spread in such a manner.
“There is no evidence that food or the food chain is participating in the transmission of this virus,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s emergencies program, said during a press conference.
“People should not fear food, or food packaging or processing or delivery of food. Food is very important. And I would hate to think that we would create an impression that there’s a problem with our food or there’s a problem with our food chain.”
According to the WHO, Chinese health officials tested a “few hundred thousand” samples of frozen food and found that “very, very few” tests came back positive.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.