‘No need to disinfect packages’

PETALING JAYA: Some consumers, concerned that Covid-19 can possibly be transmitted through frozen food containers and other product packaging, are wondering if these items should be disinfected.

Health experts believe this is not necessary as there is little evidence to suggest that the virus could infect others this way.

Universiti Malaya epidemiologist Prof Datuk Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud said whether the virus is found on packaging and whether it infects a person are two different issues.

“Assuming that a virus is still alive on the packaging, a person would have to touch the packaging before touching his own eyes, nose or mouth, as infection is still largely through these routes.

“So, although this route of infection is theoretically possible, it does not seem very likely at this point in time.

“One would need to conduct more in-depth research on establishing cause and effect here, ” he said.

Citing World Health Organisation (WHO) findings, Dr Bulgiba said coronaviruses in general are very stable in a frozen state and may survive for up to two years in very low temperatures.

“Indeed, there have been a few reports of the SARS-CoV-2 virus being found on frozen food packaging but the numbers are extremely small relative to the amount of frozen food actually passing through ports and others.

“China is probably the only country that seems to have mandated the disinfection of goods, ” he said.

Dr Bulgiba noted that New Zealand investigated the possibility of infection from frozen food but was not able to find any conclusive link.

“The evidence so far does not seem to indicate that there is a need to disinfect packaging before export.

“If we are talking about food, as long as one practises good hand hygiene after handling uncooked food and the food is cooked properly, the virus would not be able to survive, ” he said.

The British weekly scientific journal Nature reported on Feb 2 that airborne transmission through droplets and aerosol was still the main transmission method compared to surface transmission, which, although still possible, did not pose a significant risk.

Reuters also reported that WHO has said that the risk of catching the virus from frozen food is low, although China continues to carry out inspections on cold-chain imports.

Imported cold-chain food products cannot be sold in China without a report showing they have been tested for Covid-19.

“It is not necessary to disinfect surfaces because of the country’s temperature and high humidity, ” said Universiti Putra Malaysia medical epidemiologist Assoc Prof Dr Malina Osman.

“These are unsuitable environments for the virus to survive.

“We also have proper food and safety procedures here including for frozen food.

“On disinfecting surfaces, that is only needed if there is evidence of a source of living infection that continuously contaminates the environment, ” she added.

The possibility of contracting the virus from any surface is low if care is given to hand hygiene, she said.

“Always wash your hands before touching any part of your face, ” she said.

Universiti Sains Malaysia medical lecturer and public health physician Dr Ahmad Filza Ismail concurred, saying it was not necessary to disinfect since the viability of the virus on such surfaces is low and it will degrade over time.

“Moreover, most packaging is done automatically by a machine.

“Unless those who are doing the packaging are infected by the virus, in which case further precautions will then need to be taken into consideration.

“But the handling of packages and other activities also needs to adhere to the general standard operating procedure, ” he said.

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