Friday, January 29, 2021

China Tracks Imported Frozen Food to Prevent Covid Transmission

China has set up a traceability system to track imported frozen food. Shipments of imported frozen meat and seafood have had to undergo disinfection and special handling since mid-2020. Now shipments have to be accompanied by certificates proving they have been disinfected, must be tracked as they move into domestic transportation and storage facilities, and should be sold on special shelves and counters. 

The traceability platform for imported frozen food was announced at a December 1 teleconference held by the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR). Food companies will have to report the source of food shipments, the amount, their current location and destination. Receipts must be complete and inspection and disinfection certifications must be transmitted with the shipment. The information must be reported and be accessible to accelerate epidemic prevention and control, according to the SAMR's explanation.

Imported frozen food cannot be sold without an inspection/quarantine certificate, testing report, disinfection certificate, or traceability information. SAMR told producers to set up special channels for imported cold chain food, to store it in special areas, and to set up special areas for sale of imported frozen food in stores and markets.

The system was said to be in operation in 9 provinces in December. Other provinces in central and western China, including Gansu, Henan, Qinghai, and Chongqing, have reported implementing the system this month. 

The system comes after 6 months of scrutiny of imported foods that has turned up a handful of positive covid virus test results on external packaging of imported food. Follow-up testing never finds additional positive tests on food packaging, personnel, storage areas, or the food itself. It appears only imported food is tested, but domestic chicken from two companies--both foreign-invested--have also turned up positive. 

Last month this blog reported on covid-19 testing of imported food. The latest incidents of positive covid-19 tests:

  • January 20, Packaging tested positive on Brazilian chicken wings imported to Guangdong Province and sold to neighboring Guangxi Province.
  • January 20, Tianjin, packaging of imported whey products from Ukraine and chocolates made with whey tested positive
  • January 22, Suzhou, Jiangsu Province. External packaging of imported pork neck bones tested positive.
  • January 21, Zaozhuang, Shandong Province. Imported whey powder used in dates with a milk-based coating tested positive.
  • January 21, Wuxi, Jiangsu Province. Imported cherries were found to be positive in widespread testing of imported foods. Officials insisted cherries have virtually no risk of transmission because they are not frozen, the virus is inactive and in very low concentration.
  • January 25, nine of 92,000 chicken products from a factory in Heilongjiang Province tested positive. Workers had developed clinical symptoms a week earlier and products had already been removed from shelves. The chicken came from two counties in the province. The factory is a subsidiary of Thai company CP, the second foreign-owned chicken factory to be implicated.
  • January 28, Tianjin Binhai District. Packaging tested positive on American pork kidneys that entered the country January 11. An additional 71 tests of workers and storage areas were negative.
Chinese fears of imported pork surfaced early in 2020. An online posting in May noted that many "patriotic" Chinese netizens said they were worried that American pork could transmit the virus and vowed never to buy it. The author explained that there was little chance of accidentally buying American pork since its volume was relatively small and mostly went into processing plants (imported pork did begin to appear in retail markets later in the year). The writer explained that it is easy to distinguish imported frozen pork from freshly slaughtered Chinese pork. 

Several reports since December have claimed that fear of covid-19 transmission is reducing demand for imported frozen pork auctioned by authorities to bolster supplies ahead of the Chinese spring festival holiday. Consequently, the auctions have become less effective, the reports say.

In recent days, hog prices have begun to fall in response to a different covid-related fear. With covid cases spreading in northern and northeastern China, some farmers have began panic-selling their pigs because they are worried about road closures and shut-down of logistics to prevent spread of the virus. Worries about renewed African swine fever cases have also contributed to the panic. Pig prices began falling in other regions as well. 

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