SELF – Men’s and Women Health & Fitness
We have some unappetizing news: Disease control centers in China have detected the new coronavirus on frozen chicken wings, according to Reuters. Officials didn’t disclose which brand of wings was involved, but they did state that the shipment came from Brazil, which has the second-highest rate of COVID-19 infection in the world. Brazil currently has 3.4 million confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins University. The country’s case numbers are only behind those of the United States, which has 5.4 million confirmed cases at press time.
This isn’t the first time reports have circulated about food or food packaging testing positive for the coronavirus. A few days before the chicken wing news broke, China reported that shrimp packaging from Ecuador also tested positive, Reuters says, and New Zealand is reportedly examining whether their new spate of infections can be linked to freight shipping.
So, should you be eyeing your fridge with suspicion? Experts don’t think so, at least not based on the current science surrounding COVID-19 and food.
“Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. Now, it’s certainly possible we’ll learn more—the CDC has indeed issued faulty guidance before, and their page on food and COVID-19 was last updated on June 22. However, when asked if this frozen chicken wing news changes how much we should worry about COVID-19 transmission from food, Eleanor Murray, Sc.D., assistant professor of epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health, had a reassuring answer: “I don’t think this changes it. The fact is that we’re not seeing a lot of fomite transmission. Fomites are virus particles on surfaces,” she tells SELF. “Either it’s difficult to get infected that way or the precautions we’ve been taking as a country, world, etc. have been sufficient.”
Why? For starters, experts believe that contaminated objects (including food and packaging) aren’t the main mode of COVID-19 transmission. As you have (hopefully) heard many times by now: The primary way that COVID-19 spreads is through person-to-person contact via respiratory droplets. Respiratory droplets form when a person talks, coughs, sneezes, sings, or even breathes. If someone has COVID-19, the respiratory droplets they expel can contain the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the infection. If another person breathes in those coronavirus-containing respiratory droplets, they might develop COVID-19. You’re most at risk of this happening when in close contact (six feet or fewer) with a person who has COVID-19.
The virus only replicates in humans and animals, so it doesn’t appear to stay infectious on surfaces for long. “In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging,” the CDC notes. Like plenty of other things about this virus, experts are still investigating exactly how long it may survive on surfaces. Right now, it seems as though the virus can last for hours to days on various surfaces, the CDC says, but there are no details when it comes to how long the virus may last on specific foods.
We do know that the frozen nature of the wings may be a big factor in terms of the virus’s survivability. “Freezing is how we preserve viruses in labs,” Murray says. The potential food packaging-related COVID-19 transmission in both the Ecuador and New Zealand cases also involved frozen goods. But frozen chicken wings (or any other food) testing positive for the virus doesn’t necessarily mean that food would make someone sick after eating it. Most tests will pick up even remnants of SARS-CoV-2 debris, which isn’t the full virus, Murray explains.