Jul 11, 2020 03:15 AM

China Points to Shrimp as Virus Carrier After Salmon Debacle

Photo: Bloomberg
Photo: Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) ― China said samples of imported shrimp tested positive for the coronavirus, raising questions again over whether the pathogen can spread through food or frozen products.

The inside and outside of shrimp packaging tested positive for the virus, China’s General Administration of Customs said. The samples were from three Ecuadorian plants, and imports from those processors will be halted, it said.

“The test result doesn’t mean the virus is contagious but reflects the loopholes in companies’ food-safety regulations,” said Bi Kexin, director of the food import and export safety bureau in the customs department. “Customs will further strengthen control of the origins of imported cold-chain food.”

China last month pointed to imported salmon as a possible culprit for Beijing’s fresh Covid-19 outbreak, sparking a boycott of the fish as supermarkets took the produce off their shelves. China also began mass testing of imported cold foods at ports and blocked shipments from meat plants abroad that reported infections among workers.

Evidence suggests that it’s extremely unlikely for the virus to be transmitted through food, said Gorjan Nikolik, associate director of seafood at Rabobank.

Chinese officials have also agreed with global experts that imported food poses a low risk of transmitting the virus. That’s led to confusion abroad over why China is continuing to test and halt shipments.

The tests are “an important measure to prevent the risk of the virus being transmitted from imported cold chain food channels,” Bi said. “This is a necessary measure taken to protect the health of the people and does not interrupt normal international trade.”

Employees in some countries are still working even after becoming infected with the virus, raising the risk of food contamination, Bi said. Because there are epidemic clusters at some overseas facilities, China halted meat imports from 23 plants, including units in Brazil, the U.K., the U.S. and Germany, he said.

China is a much bigger buyer of shrimp than salmon, Rabobank’s Nikolik said. Chinese purchases are on the same scale as those of the U.S. and Europe, and Ecuador is a leading supplier, he said.

China’s customs authorities tested 227,934 samples, and the rest of them were negative, it said. The shrimp that tested positive was delivered to ports in Dalian and Xiamen and was destroyed, it said.

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