Graphics: How is China coping with coronavirus imported through cold chain food?
By Zhao Hong

Cold chain food has frequently been brought to public attention as a carrier of the novel coronavirus from abroad.

On Wednesday, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Yuhuan City in east China's Zhejiang Province found a sample of imported pork from a local market tested positive for coronavirus. The meat was imported from Brazil through Yangshan Port in Shanghai.

This is the latest case of imported food, usually meat or aquatic products, found contaminated with the virus. Before this, port cities including Dalian in northeast China's Liaoning Province, Tianjin, and Qingdao in east China's Shandong Province, had experienced coronavirus transmission traced back to imported cold chain food.

Note: The data is based on public reports and might be incomplete.

Note: The data is based on public reports and might be incomplete.

The first time that cold chain food was linked to the virus was in June when a cluster of coronavirus cases emerged in Beijing. The virus was found on a chopping board used for imported salmon at Xinfadi wholesale food market.

A study, jointly conducted by several institutions including the Beijing CDC and Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, found that imported food via cold chain from high-risk countries may have been the origin of the unexpected COVID-19 resurgence in Beijing.

Read more:

Origin of COVID-19 resurgence in Beijing: Cold chain food contamination

In October, China detected and isolated live coronavirus in a package of imported frozen cod during a trace-back investigation into the outbreak in Qingdao. It was the first time that live virus was isolated from cold chain food packaging, and this further confirmed that the coronavirus can survive on packaging for a long time during cold chain transportation, signaling that the virus can be carried over long distances across borders.

While the public has grown increasingly vigilant over imported infections and a possible winter virus onslaught, Qin Yuming, secretary-general of the Cold Chain Logistics Committee of the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing, said that China needs a large amount of imported produce to make up for a domestic shortfall.

Cold chain refers to perishable food that until it reaches the hands of consumers is kept and transported in a low temperature environment necessary to ensure quality and safety, reduce losses and prevent contamination of the special supply chain systems.

Along with rising market demand, the market scale of the cold chain industry in China has been expanding year by year. Data shows the scale of the cold chain market in 2019 was 339 billion yuan ($52 billion).

In order to ensure market supply and stabilize prices during the pandemic, China has increased its imports of food. China has imported 8.2 million tons of meat, including offal, up to October, a 68.8 percent year-on-year increase.

So far, most positive tests around cold chain food were found before it went to market, one example of early tightening of control and prevention work.

On November 9, the State Council released the Work Plan of Preventive Comprehensive Disinfection of Imported Cold Chain Foods, requiring preventive comprehensive disinfection of imported cold chain food before it comes into contact with people in China.

On November 15, the Ministry of Transport issued Guidelines for the Prevention, Control and Disinfection of New Coronavirus in Imported Cold Chain Food Logistics by Highways and Waterways, clarifying the prevention, control and disinfection requirements during the handling and transportation of imported cold chain food, and workers' safety protection requirements and emergency response.

On November 12, the General Administration of Customs said that Customs has further enhanced the inspection of imported cold chain food. As of November 11, China has communicated with 109 countries on the export of cold chain food products to China, suspended cold chain food imports from 99 companies with COVID-19 staff infections in 20 countries. Customs had inspected 873,475 samples nationwide and found 13 were positive.

The administration is taking emergency preventive measures to suspend import declarations of foreign food makers whose goods test positive for one to four weeks.

China's top market regulator, the State Administration for Market Regulation, has launched a national platform for imported cold chain food tracing management. It is using data provided by nine provinces and cities whose first-stop imports of cold chain food account for over 90 percent of the country's total. The platform basically covers the entire information chain of imported cold chain food – from customs clearance to wholesale, retail and catering service providers.

Graphics by Chen Yuyang, Feng Yuan, Li Jingjie