Two cities in China have found traces of the new coronavirus in cargoes of imported frozen food, local authorities said on Thursday, although the World Health Organization downplayed the risk of the virus entering the food chain.
A sample taken from the surface of frozen chicken wings imported into the southern city of Shenzhen from Brazil, as well as samples of outer packaging of frozen Ecuadorian shrimp sold in the northwestern city of Xian, have tested positive for the virus, local Chinese authorities said.
Shenzhen authorities identified the chicken as originating from a plant owned by Aurora, Brazil's third-largest poultry and pork exporter.
As confirmed COVID-19 cases continue to rise globally, the discoveries raise fresh concerns that the coronavirus that causes the disease can spread on surfaces and enter the food-chain.
A day earlier, officials started investigating whether the first COVID-19 cases in New Zealand in more than three months were imported by freight.
Viruses can survive up to two years at temperatures of minus 20 degrees Celsius, but scientists and officials say there is no strong evidence so far the coronavirus can spread via frozen food.
People should not fear food, food packaging or delivery of food, the World Health Organization's head of emergencies program Mike Ryan told a briefing. There is no evidence that food or the food chain is participating in transmission of this virus. And people should feel comfortable and safe.
WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove said China had tested hundreds of thousands of packages and found very, very few, less than 10 proving positive for the virus.
The US Food and Drug Administration and Agriculture Department said in a joint statement there is no evidence that people can contract COVID-19 from food or from food packaging.