Doubts over coronavirus in Brazilian chicken wings

The government of the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen said that analysis of a sample of frozen chicken wings imported from Brazil tested positive for the coronavirus.

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(ViShark | BigStock.com)
(ViShark | BigStock.com)

The government of the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen said that analysis of a sample of frozen chicken wings imported from Brazil tested positive for the coronavirus, Reuters reported.

This incident raised fears that contaminated shipments could lead to further outbreaks.

In June there was a new outbreak in Beijing that was linked to the Xinfadi wholesale food market. In this way, local disease control centers analyzed a surface sample taken from chicken wings as part of routine examinations on imported meat and seafood products.

The coronavirus had already been found in frozen shrimp packaging from Ecuador in China. Therefore, since mid-June, in addition to supervising all meat and seafood containers reaching the main ports, China suspended some meat imports from different origins, such as those from Brazil.

According to Reuters, "Shenzhen’s health authorities traced and tested everyone who might have come into contact with potentially contaminated food products, and all results were negative." It also mentions that the Brazilian embassy in Beijing did not immediately respond to the request for comments on this matter.

But Li Fengqin, who runs a microbiology laboratory at China's National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment, said that the possibility of contaminated frozen foods causing new infections could not be ruled out. The Reuters report only specified that the surface of the wings was analyzed, although it does not seem clear whether the finding was on the packaging or on the wings themselves.

The chicken shipment identified in China is from a plant owned and operated by Aurora, in the Santa Catarina state. Aurora claims that it has no official notification from the authorities of that country, according to the Jornal Nacional newspaper. In addition, Aurora claims to have complied with all applicable legal regulations and sanitary requirements from the field to the plant.

On the other hand, according to reports in that Brazilian newspaper, the Catarinense Poultry Producers Association said that such a shipment takes more than 45 days to reach China, so contamination at the production chain is unlikely.

Finally, the Brazilian Association of Animal Protein (ABPA) said that there has been confusion in the Chinese translation and that China said there was contamination in packaging and not in the chicken. "The virus doesn't get itself inside the meat," said Ricardo Santin, its executive director.

Viruses can survive for up to two years in temperatures below -20ÂşC, but scientists say there is no conclusive evidence that this coronavirus can spread in frozen foods. University of Sao Paulo virologist Prof. Paulo Eduardo BrandĂŁo also says that being in "frozen chicken, the virus is unlikely to remain viable for so long."

The Brazilian Animal Protein Association maintains an office in Beijing and is affiliated with the China Quarantine and Inspection Association. China represents one of its main export markets at the moment - 16% total. From 2018 to 2019, its exports of chicken cuts increased by more than 60 percent (about 250,000 metric tons were exported in 2019).

View our continuing coverage of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.

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