There’s Low Risk of Food Spreading the Virus, Experts Say After Salmon Panic

Food poses little risk of spreading the coronavirus, health experts around the globe said, reassuring consumers after an outbreak in Beijing was blamed on imported fish.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it is “not aware of any evidence” to suggest that food can transmit the respiratory virus. The view was echoed by Kate Grusich, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who said the poor survivability of coronaviruses on surfaces means “there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging.”

Chile, the top seller of salmon after Norway, sought to persuade China that its fish is safe to import after orders were canceled. The Norwegian Food Safety Authority also said there were no known cases of infection via contaminated food.

Questions are being raised over the potential dangers of food after coronavirus infections were traced to the chopping board of a seller of imported salmon at a market in Beijing. Salmon has been taken off the shelves in major supermarkets while top experts are warning people not to consume the omega-3 rich fish.

“There’s no evidence so far showing salmon are the origin or intermediate hosts of the coronavirus,” said Shi Guoqing, an expert with the National Health Commission, in a briefing in Beijing on Tuesday. 

Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist with the China CDC, said in an interview Monday with state television that a positive result from a salmon chopping board “doesn’t indicate much,” as it could have been contaminated by workers or shoppers spraying droplets.

There are only a couple of examples of people having caught the coronavirus from animals. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says that thoroughly cooked meat from healthy livestock is safe, but warns people to avoid meat from wild animals or sick livestock.

Contaminated Surfaces

Health experts have confirmed that transmission can occur indirectly, by touching a contaminated surface or object, though the U.S. CDC said in late May that pathway probably isn’t the main way the virus spreads.

It’s unclear if the virus can be transmitted through frozen food that’s later thawed. David Hamer, a professor at Boston University School of Public Health and a physician at Boston Medical Center, said that although there is no evidence that Covid-19 can be transmitted through food, more research is needed.

“That raises a whole lot of concerning prospects around the global movement of the food supply,” he said. “This could set off a panic if people think their food could be a cause of infection.”

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