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COVID discovered in samples from pork and beef import packaging in Hong Kong

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the shopping area at Tsim Sha Tsui, following a surge in cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Hong Kong, China, February 20, 2022. REUTERS/Lam Yik

COVID-19 was discovered in samples obtained from the packaging of imported frozen beef from Brazil and frozen pork skin from Poland, according to Hong Kong authorities, who promised to increase food inspections.

The news: The global financial centre follows mainland China’s “dynamic zero COVID” strategy, which aims to eliminate any outbreaks at all costs. Authorities are on high alert as a new wave of diseases proves difficult to contain.

  • The number of daily infections has climbed dramatically this year, reaching a new high of 7,533 cases on Monday, far outstripping the government’s testing, hospital, and quarantine capacity.
  • The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) took 36 samples for testing from a batch of 1,100 cartons of frozen beef shipped by sea from Brazil, weighing a total of 29 tonnes. One outside packaging sample and two interior packaging samples were found to be positive.
  • It also took 12 samples from a batch of 300 cartons of frozen pork skin imported by sea from Poland, weighing roughly 7 tonnes. COVID-19 was found in one sample of inner packaging.
  • “The CFS has ordered the importers concerned to dispose the beef and pork skin of the same batches,” the government said in a statement late on Monday. “In addition, the CFS will step up the sampling of similar products for testing.”

What’s going on: Since mid-2020, Hong Kong has started screening frozen food imports for COVID-19, and positive samples were discovered on pomfret fish packaging in August 2021 and cuttlefish packaging in November 2021.

  • COVID-19 is mostly carried through droplets, cannot multiply in food or food packaging, and is unlikely to be transmitted to humans through food consumption, according to authorities.
  • Nonetheless, they advise that raw food be handled separately, that hygiene guidelines be followed, and that food be adequately cooked.
  • Hong Kong is once again following mainland China’s COVID-19 restrictions on food imports, with increased inspections. Unlike other countries, China considers frozen food packaging to be a potential source of COVID-19 transmission.
  • A number of incidences of the virus were discovered on chilled food packaging in China, leading product rejections and exporter complaints. According to the World Health Organization, there are no known transmission pathways through food or packaging.
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