Covid found on Brazil frozen chicken wings

Top News | Mandy Zheng 14 Aug 2020

Hong Kong food authorities last night suspended a Brazilian company's license application for importing poultry meat into the city after Shenzhen authorities discovered Covid-19 on the surface of its chicken wings.

Brazil has the second-highest number of infections in the world, at 3.16 million, behind the United States, which has more than 5.3 million.

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said the contaminated batch of chicken wings was not on sale in Hong Kong, but it will collect samples of other frozen chicken meat from Brazil for testing.

"According to current scientific information, there is no evidence indicating that humans can be infected by Covid-19 through food," it said. But it urged people to cook food thoroughly and handle raw and cooked food separately.

The virus was found on Tuesday on a sample taken from the wings' surface during an examination of imported food, according to Shenzhen's Covid-19 prevention and control headquarters.

The office has since arranged tests for people who might have contact with the tainted products, all of which came out negative.

Chicken wings from the same batch were disinfected and tested, with no virus found on them. Authorities are also tracing those already sold.

"We remind people to be cautious when buying imported frozen meat and seafood, and [practice good personal hygiene]," the office said.

The Macau government said it is "paying high attention" to the incident, adding it has stopped processing import applications of the Brazilian factory.

It also said the company's last batch of goods entered Macau in mid-June, and authorities have beefed up inspection of imported frozen food.

Earlier yesterday, Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Centre for Health Protection's communicable disease branch, said she was aware of the incident and local authorities will consider testing food products.

But she said there are no risks of eating frozen meat once it is cooked, adding that people should wash hands and avoid touching their eyes and face while cooking.

Respiratory disease expert Leung Chi-chiu urged the government to strengthen the inspection of frozen food imported from places where the pandemic situation is severe.

"If necessary, imports from such locations should even be partly banned," Leung said, citing South America, where infections have been rising sharply.

As the coronavirus can survive for several weeks under four degrees Celsius, a small portion could remain alive during the month-long transportation, according to Leung.

"It's likely that frozen food will not contain a high level of the virus, so the infection risk for customers is quite low," he said, adding the risk could be higher for workers at sales and distribution centers.

Infectious diseases specialist Wilson Lam said the risk of contracting Covid-19 from frozen food is generally low as products are contaminated instead of infected with the virus.

"Unlike germs, viruses do not grow in number on a dead object. They only exist on the surface or in the ice," Lam said.

He said people should avoid touching meat at markets and put raw and cooked food in separate bags. Cleaning frozen food packages before storing them in the fridge is also a good practice.

Lam said while he did not consider it necessary to implement additional disease control arrangements at wet markets, the chicken wing incident is a "good reminder" for Hong Kong to stick to its current measures.

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