It feels as if the goalposts for contracting COVID-19 are constantly and exhaustively shifting. The most recent risk suggests taking precautions when purchasing and preparing pre-packaged salmon since the virus can remain intact within the first 8 days of bringing it home.
This recent study lays out what precautionary measures to take before preparing your next meal.
Cause for Concern
South China Agricultural University and Guangdong Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Guangzhou discovered COVID-19 was found present in chilled salmon in a wet market in Beijing.
The scant amount of the virus was able to survive at 39 degrees Fahrenheit for 8 days. Unfortunately, most raw fish requires low temperature for transport to avoid any other harmful bacteria from spoiling the meat. Researchers from this particular case study elaborate:
“Fish are generally sold in quarters having temperatures much lower than regular room temperature. This means that the virus attached onto fish skin and sold in fish or seafood markets can survive for a long time.”
How can the virus cross international lines?
“SARS-CoV-2-contaminated fish from one country can be easily transported to another country within one week, thus serving as one of the sources for international transmission,” according to researchers.
Although the virus doesn’t infect the fish itself, it can live on the skin’s surface since refrigerated trucks used for transport need to be kept at such low temperatures.
When officials discovered contaminated fish in Beijing they halted sales and import/export arrangements with neighboring cities and countries to contain the spread.
After this discovery The World Health Organization reminded the public of the various different ways this virus is spread:
“The virus doesn’t infect the actual fish, and there’s no danger consuming them. But if the virus is present on their surface, and it’s still infectious, there may be a risk of theoretical transmission of COVID-19. The virus spreads mainly via droplets, the WHO says, with aerosol and fomites transmission also acknowledged as avenues of transmission.”
The real concern here is the surface of the salmon acting as a conduit fomite with the potential to infect the host if they don’t clean and prepare their food properly. Luckily there’s a lot you can do to minimize this risk.
What are fomites you might be wondering?
A specialist in microbiology and the spread of infectious disease, Stephanie A. Boone, goes into what fomites entail to get a better idea of what we’re dealing with here:
“Fomites are inanimate objects that can become contaminated with infectious agents and serve as a mechanism for transfer between hosts. The classic example of a fomite is a park water fountain from which many people drink. Infectious agents deposited by one person can potentially be transmitted to a subsequent drinker.”
What you can do at home to mitigate the risk of infection
The World Health Organization reiterates transmission of COVID-19 is impossible through ingesting food. However, taking extra sanitary precautions such as masking up at the grocery store, rinsing and sterilizing your food, frequent hand-washing in between handling different foods to avoid cross-contamination with potential fomites coupled with cooking food thoroughly at the right temperature can greatly reduce your risk of infection. It’s important to remember to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth while handling potential contaminants. Wear gloves if you want to be extra safe!
What other precautions are being taken?
While this study requires further review the findings are significant enough to warrant concern and extra precautions. Workers handling salmon and potential fomites are advised to wear gloves and masks with shields to avoid contracting the virus or contamination of other foods sharing the same transportation to other countries.
Chinese authorities have been vigilant checking any imported processed meats, containers, or packaging that goes through their facilities and across borderlines. China also stopped imports from 56 companies spanning 19 countries after employees were compromised after exposure to the virus.