U.S – A study by researchers at the Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina, has revealed that viruses similar to the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) can survive on frozen meat and fish for up to a month.
Prompted by COVID outbreaks in Asia in which packaged meat was suspected as the virus’ source, the research was conducted on frozen chicken, beef, pork and salmon.
The findings were later published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology , a journal of the American Society for Microbiology.
“Although you might not store meat in the fridge for 30 days, you might store it in the freezer for that long,” said first Author Emily Bailey, Assistant Professor of Public Health at Campbell University.
The research team made use of surrogate viruses with similar protein spikes without use of the actual coronavirus, placing them on frozen meat and fish which were later refrigerated and frozen at 40C and -200C respectively.
“We even found that the viruses could be cultured after [being frozen for] that length of time,” Bailey said in a journal news release.
According to the researchers their findings are noteworthy because SARS-CoV-2 can not only reproduce, in the respiratory tract where most people feel its effects, but also in the gut.
Three virus strains were used as surrogates in the study, including two animal coronaviruses. All three have been used as stand-ins in previous studies of SARS-CoV-2, according to WebMD.
The researchers found that the viruses didn’t fare as well in refrigerated temperatures as in freezer temperatures. The numbers also differed by food item.
They noted that the study underscores the importance of rigorous sanitation in the harvest, transport, packaging and distribution of food products.
“Continued efforts are needed to prevent contamination of foods and food processing surfaces, worker hands, and food processing utensils such as knives,” the authors wrote, adding that the disinfection of foods prior to packaging also needs to be addressed.
The disease COVID-19, caused by SARS-CoV-2, was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) in March 2020.
The role of contaminated foods as sources of SARS-CoV-2 exposure has been suggested because of the possible emergence of the pandemic in a food market in Wuhan China.
Other reports, particularly in China, have attributed outbreaks of SARS-CoV-2 to contaminated food many months after the end of locally sustained transmission.