Frozen Chicken Wings Tested Positive for Coronavirus—Should You Care? – Self
18 septembre 2020
We have some unappetizing news: Disease control centers in China have detected the 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 its 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, et cetera 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.
Researchers are still figuring out just how much of the SARS-CoV-2 virus it takes to get someone sick, but as the New York Times reports, it’s not just one or even a few viral particles. “We know that the more virus that you’re exposed to at the initial point of contact, the more likely you are to get sick and potentially the sicker you’ll get,” Murray says. This is part of why the CDC currently defines “prolonged exposure” to COVID-19 as spending 15 or more minutes fewer than six feet away from someone with the illness. Coming down with COVID-19 isn’t just about exposure to the virus, but also about how much you’re exposed to.
Beyond that, the frozen chicken would presumably be cooked before consumption, which is another reason it wouldn’t be infectious. While we don’t know at exactly what temperature SARS-CoV-2 begins to die, the World Health Organization reports that another type of coronavirus, SARS, begins dying quickly at 133 degrees Fahrenheit—much lower than what a virus would be subjected to while cooking. “Heating is a great way to destroy [the virus],” Murray says. (To be clear, we’re talking about a concentrated heat source used to cook food. Clearly, given that the pandemic is still raging on in the U.S. despite the country being firmly in the summer months, it’s not true that general heat will significantly kill off SARS-CoV-2.)
With all of the above said, the CDC does state that it’s conceivable for someone to get COVID-19 after touching contaminated food and then touching their eyes, ears, or mouth. Even though this isn’t a likely way to get sick, it’s good to be cautious. Wash your hands after shopping, handling food, before preparing food, and before eating, the CDC recommends. When you can’t wash your hands, use hand sanitizer made of 60% or more alcohol. Wash items other people may have touched or breathed on at the grocery store but that you won’t be cooking—like produce—as usual. (Here’s exactly how to wash various types of fruits and vegetables.) Not only will taking these measures reduce your (already low) odds of getting COVID-19 from food or food packaging, but they will also help prevent foodborne illness.
Beyond these steps, to keep yourself as safe as possible from COVID-19 (and also not spread it to others), continue to practice physical distancing and wearing masks when away from your household. Based on what we know now, going out to a crowded happy hour with a bunch of people is still a lot riskier than the actual food you’d eat when you’re there.