I’ve been away and need to catch up on some posts.  I was planning a nice non-COVID post, until a few seconds ago when I saw the CNN headline “Chinese officials say chicken wings imported from Brazil tested positive for COVID-19.”

My response… oh crap.

Not because I fear a wave of foodborne COVID-19. Rather, I fear a wave a paranoia about foodborne COVID-19 (and an overstuffed email inbox today).

According to the report, testing identified SARS-CoV-2 in a sample of chicken wings from Brazil. We have to realize that it’s most likely the testing was done by PCR, which is a very sensitive method that detects the nucleic acid building blocks of the virus (the RNA). That means it can detect live OR dead virus.  This virus does not live long outside its host, so it’s almost certain the virus (or more specifically pieces of virus) detected in the chicken wings wasn’t infectious.

How did the virus get there?

  • Likely from people handling the food. While research is still limited, this virus has not been identified in poultry, so a human origin is almost certain. That would fit with other recent reports from China of detection of SARS-CoV-2 on packaging of imported food. Infected people contaminate surfaces they touch.

Is there any risk?

  • Presumably no. Small amounts of this virus are probably common of surfaces in areas where the virus is circulating. The more infected people, the more contamination is likely. Yet, transmission risk still seems to be mainly from droplets and direct contact. The presence of viral “bits” on surfaces does not mean the presence of risk.
  • The risk from handling chicken wings is mainly from our run-of-the-mill foodborne bugs like Salmonella.

What should people do?

  • Pay attention to measures that we use to reduce the risk from our run-of-the-mill foodborne bugs like Salmonella, such as handwashing after handling raw meat, and cooking meat properly, and avoiding cross-contamination of food and surfaces in the kitchen. (If you want an extra level of protection, avoid sticking raw chicken wings up your nose.)”

There are a lot of things regarding SARS-CoV-2 to be concerned about. This isn’t one of them.