Coronavirus risk to consumers from cold chain products 'very low', says Chinese official

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FILE PHOTO: A customer shops for seafood at a supermarket in Shanghai

BEIJING (Reuters) - The risk to consumers of catching the coronavirus from cold chain food products was "very low," a senior Chinese official said on Wednesday, after China increased inspections of imported frozen foods to the irritation of its trade partners.

The World Health Organization has also said the risk of catching COVID-19 from frozen food is low.

China's screening of cold chain products, which include frozen and other perishable items that must be kept cold, has slowed the trade.

"The risk of consumers catching coronavirus through general contact of cold chain food products and their outer packaging is very low," said Li Ning, deputy director at China National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment, citing steps by the authorities to prevent goods from passing on the virus.

Screening of cold chain products for the virus showed the detection ratio was 0.48/10,000, officials said.

But Li told a news briefing there was still a risk of infection and those most at risk included "handlers, who repeatedly came into contact with the outer packaging of imported cold-chain food in a particular environment."

A seafood market in the Chinese city of Wuhan is widely believed to be the origin of the pandemic that emerged in late 2019. But the Global Times, a tabloid backed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, suggested the presence of the virus on imported food raised the possibility it might have come from abroad.

"Taking into account the experience in the past 11 months, we are confident that we can prevent a resurgence of the epidemic and prevent a serious outbreak like the one in early 2020," said Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist of China's Center for Diseases Prevention and Control, told the briefing.

China would also strengthen monitoring and inspections of other imported goods and containers in winter, Wu said.

Food producers and operators must ask for COVID-free and disinfection certificates when purchasing imported cold chain products, Chen Xu, an official with the State Administration for Market Regulation, told reporters.

(Reporting by Hallie Gu, Roxanne Liu, and Shivani Singh; Editing by Edmund Blair)