Customers shop for frozen meat at a supermarket following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Hong Kong, China February 22, 2022.
Hong Kong authorities said they found COVID-19 in samples taken from the packaging of imports of frozen beef from Brazil and frozen pork skin from Poland, vowing to step up inspections of imported food.
The global financial hub deploys a "dynamic zero COVID" strategy similar to mainland China's, aiming to eradicate any outbreaks at all costs. Authorities have been on high alert as a new wave of infections is proving harder to control.
Daily infections numbers have risen sharply this year, reaching a record 7,533 cases on Monday, overwhelming the government's testing, hospital and quarantine capacities.
The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) took 36 samples for testing from a batch of around 1,100 cartons of frozen beef, weighing a total of 29 tonnes, imported from Brazil by sea. It found one outer packaging and two inner packaging samples tested positive.
It also collected 12 samples from a batch of around 300 cartons of frozen pork skin, weighing around 7 tonnes, imported from Poland via sea. One inner packaging sample tested positive for COVID-19.
"The CFS has ordered the importers concerned to dispose the beef and pork skin of the same batches," the government said in a statement late on Monday. "In addition, the CFS will step up the sampling of similar products for testing."
Hong Kong has been monitoring frozen food imports for COVID-19 since mid-2020 and found positive samples on pomfret fish packaging in August 2021 and on cuttlefish packaging in November 2021.
Authorities said COVID-19 is predominantly transmitted through droplets and cannot multiply in food or food packaging, and that it is unlikely that it can be transmitted to humans via food consumption.
Nevertheless, they recommend people handle raw food separately, observe hygiene rules and cook food thoroughly.
With stepped up inspections on food imports, Hong Kong is again following in the footsteps of mainland China on COVID-19 policies. Unlike other countries, China cites frozen food packaging as a risk of spreading COVID-19.
Mainland China had announced a number of cases of the virus being found on chilled food packaging, prompting rejections of goods and complaints from exporters. The World Health Organization says neither food nor packaging are known transmission routes.
Source: Reuters / Reporting by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell