There’s positive news about chicken wings but not in a “these chicken wings are yummy” type of way.
In Shenzen, China, a sample of frozen chicken wings imported from Brazil has tested positive for the Covid-19 coronavirus. The following China Global Television Network (CGTN) segment described the situation:
Buffalo spices, blue cheese, or maybe even chocolate cherry sauce may belong on chicken wings, but not the Covid-19 coronavirus. The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV2) would make for a horrible dipping sauce.
Nevertheless, no need to panic. Panic is only useful at the disco or when the words “avocado” and “out of” are combined. Keep in mind that the Covid-19 coronavirus is a bit like a person trying to start a rave. One person dancing is not a rave, no matter what music you play or how much LSD is involved. Similarly, you’ve got to have enough of the SARS-CoV2 around, enough to constitute an infectious dose of the virus, to cause an infection. A positive test simply means that virus genetic material has been found and says nothing about the amount of virus present.
Plus, detecting genetic material from the virus is not the same as detecting live virus. Only fragments of the virus may be present. So far, authorities haven’t found any evidence of humans getting infected from the chicken wings in Shenzen.
This wasn’t the only “Covid-19 coronavirus and frozen foods” news this week. As Reuters reported, testing in Yantai, China, revealed virus genetic material on the outer packaging of frozen seafood that had been imported from other countries.
Then there’s what’s been happening in New Zealand. The country had gone 102 days without evidence of community transmission of the Covid-19 coronavirus. However, the streak is now over. Recently a cluster of cases emerged in Auckland that led to re-initiation of lockdown measures that hadn’t been in place since June 9. The first identified case of the cluster was a man in his 50s. He then apparently passed the virus on to three of his family members, including a pre-school aged child. The case count has grown to 17 as of Thursday. It turns out the man had been working at a facility operated by Americold. The cold in Americold should be a tip off that the facility stores goods at controlled temperatures. Therefore, authorities are looking into the possibility that the man picked up the virus from handling contaminated imported frozen foods or frozen food packaging. So far, there’s been no reports of frozen goods in New Zealand testing positive for the virus.
How concerned then should you be about your food? How worried should you be about your package? That is the packaging material around your food when it comes to the Covid-19 coronavirus. As I covered previously for Forbes, studies have shown that the virus can survive on different surfaces for significant amounts of time, in some cases several days. So, in theory, you could catch the virus from food or food packaging.
However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “currently, there is no evidence to suggest that handling food or consuming food is associated with COVID-19.” In other words, there have been no documented cases of this happening. Additionally, the World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that “it is highly unlikely that people can contract COVID-19 from food or food packaging.”
So why is it “unlikely” given the fact that the virus has been found on food items and can stay on surfaces for a while? After all, you can get lots of other infections from food such as Salmonella and Listeria. Well, remember, the Covid-19 coronavirus is very different from bacteria. You know the Grease song that goes, “I got chills they’re multiplying?” Well, while many types of bacteria can readily multiply and grow on on food, the same is not true for the SARS-CoV2. This virus needs a living host to multiply. Therefore, enough of the virus has to already be deposited on the food and survive long enough for you to get infected when you either touch or eat the food. This in theory may happen if someone infected with the virus happens to say, “yummm, frozen chicken wings,” and then put his or her face close to the wings and proceed to cough all over the wings.
Moreover, eating chicken wings would not be quite the same as sticking them up your nostrils. Virus on food going down your gastrointestinal tract may not have the same opportunity to reach your respiratory tract. And it is not clear whether the virus can infect cells in your gastrointestinal tract.
Of course, all of the above is based on what’s known so far. Gathering evidence on the virus has been a bit like chasing after a llama driving a Tesla while riding a tricycle. Scientists have gotten ideas of what the virus can do but still have much to learn.
Consequently, transmission of the virus via food or food packaging is still a possibility, especially if a large enough dose of virus is plopped on the food. Unlikely does not mean can’t. For example, it is highly unlikely that your underwear will land you in the hospital. However, there are situations in which you could end up in the hospital and your story to the doctor could be, “doc, it all started when I put on my underwear.”
Therefore, the best thing to do is to continue following the following food safety approaches that I outlined for Forbes back in early June (which was about two to three missed haircuts ago):
- Wipe down food packaging that’s been recently handled by others. Again, this means non-food coverings and not the food itself. In this case, “food packaging” does not mean the pita around a sandwich or the skin of a fruit. Do not put disinfectant on such things.
- Keep your kitchen surfaces clean and sanitized. This applies to everywhere you prepare and serve your food, not just the kitchen. For example, if for some reason you were to cook and eat in the shower, keep that area clean and sanitized too.
- Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling food. Have you heard the “wash your hands” refrain before? Well, get used to it, because it’s not going to change. After the pandemic is over, you won’t be hearing, “OK, no need to wash your hands anymore.”
- Thoroughly cook what can and should be cooked. The target temperature, if possible, should be 75 degrees Celsius, which is around 167 degrees Fahrenheit. Try to maintain this temperature for a sustained amount of time. Of course, not everything can be cooked. For example, a boiled popsicle basically becomes a stick with no pop.
- Use clean water to rinse fresh fruits and vegetables. The emphasis here is on the word “clean.” Dirty water just makes things dirtier. Also, rinse everything thoroughly. You can even sing several refrains of a song like “Forbidden Fruit,” to make sure you rinse the fruit long enough, but, warning, that song is not really about fruit.
- Carry and store food safely. Always keep your food in appropriate places where the food can’t contaminate anything that may touch your face or other people can’t contaminate the food. Choose a place where random people won’t cough, sneeze, or pant on the food. If someone you know tends to pant on your food, store that person away properly as well.
- Use standard food safety approaches. As I wrote before, follow the “clean, separate, cook, and chill” guidelines that the FDA outlines on its website.
Again food and food packaging is probably not a major risk for getting a Covid-19 coronavirus infection. So it shouldn’t keep you from eating food since there isn’t really a viable alternative to food. The above precautions are useful to prevent not only Covid-19 coronavirus infections but other much more common food-borne illnesses. After all, bacteria and other microbes aren’t social distancing and still may be hard at work to give you runs for your money during the pandemic.