Can coronavirus be transmitted via imported food?

Novel coronavirus (2019-nCov) has claimed 425 lives in China to date, prompting concerns that food imported to Europe from the Hubei Province and affected regions could be infected.

On the 31st of December 2019, a new strain of coronavirus was reported in Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei Province. Outside of China, there have been 159 confirmed cases across 23 countries in the Western Pacific with one region fatality.

Novel coronavirus, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared a public emergency, has since spread to Europe.Germany has 12 confirmed cases, France has 6 confirmed cases with Russia and the UK having 2 confirmed cases each.

The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany have looked into transmission of the disease and concluded that there are currently no cases which have shown evidence of humans being infected via consumption of contaminated food products.

Transmission via surfaces which have recently been contaminated with the virus is, however, possible through ‘smear infections’. BMEL stated that, ‘this is only likely to occur during a short period after contamination, due to the relatively low stability of coronaviruses in the environment’.

Due to the relatively low environmental stability of coronaviruses, infection from foods exported from China is therefore, ‘unlikely’. As the viruses are sensitive to heat, the risk of infection can be further reduced by heating foods, the institute further added.

Prompted by consumer concerns, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessments (BfR) has published information regarding known, and potential, coronavirus transmission routes.