According to media coverage in China, following the detection of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in cold-chain food products, the outer packaging or internal surfaces of food products, including milk candy stuffed with jujube, imported cherries and beer, have recently been reported positive for COVID-19 in nucleic acid tests by different cities across China. These ‘named’ food products came into the news media spotlight all of a sudden, and no wonder consumers may ‘hesitate’ to buy or consume them. Yet, what does it imply to have ‘a positive result’ on a food product or its outer packaging? Will consumers contract the virus through touching or eating the food product? Are imported food products really unsafe for consumption? Well, let’s take a scientific and rational approach to answering these questions.
Food products are tested positive for novel coronavirus in nucleic acid tests = I will contract the virus through touching or eating these food products?
The current global pandemic of novel coronavirus pneumonia (COVID-19) is caused by a new type of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), which is a single-stranded RNA virus transmitted through respiratory tract infection, respiratory droplets, and close contact with infected persons. The presence of the coronavirus can be detected by real time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), through amplification of the viral RNA fragments till to reach detectable quantities. When a tested object yields a positive result in this type of nucleic acid test, it merely shows there are genetic fragments of the particular coronavirus present in the object; but, it does not necessarily mean that the sample contains the live virus.
A positive nucleic acid test result represents that the tested sample may contain live virus, dead virus or virus fragments, yet only live virus is transmissible. Therefore, a positive test result does not certainly mean the tested sample is capable of transmitting the COVID-19. Moreover, humans will only be infected when a sufficient amount of infectious live virus enter the human body.
When a food product is tested positive for COVID-19, it may come from a place with high incidence where it is contaminated through exposure to the patients’ respiratory droplets or contact with. Both the food product and its outer packaging are not the host of COVID-19. The virus is merely staying or once adhered on them. On the basis of the information released by China, an overwhelming majority of positive cases of the cold-chain food products or their outer packaging are only slightly contaminated with the virus. It is believed that the probability of live virus surviving on them is low, hence the risk of consumers contracting the virus through food is extremely low.
Food products are tested positive for novel coronavirus in nucleic acid tests ≠ I will contract the virus through touching or eating these food products. Please look at it with a scientific and rational attitude.
How to prevent COVID-19 infection caused by food contact?
With taking safety precautions against COVID-19 becoming a part of everyday life, the public has to adopt various food safety practices and anti-epidemic measures. It is not limited to maintain good personal hygiene and environmental sanitary, but also include more aspects, such as wearing a mask properly, practicing social distancing when go shopping, as well as disinfecting their hands with alcohol-based hand-rub after grocery shopping. Moreover, always wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running tap water before consumption (It is not recommended to use chemical detergents to clean them in order to avoid leaving residues on their surfaces). For fruits that need peeling or cutting, wash them beforehand as well. Lastly, remember that as long as we practice the and adopt the aforesaid precautions, we can enjoy food without worries.