US scientists have found that viruses similar to SARS-CoV-2, the cause of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, can survive on frozen meat products. The findings may have implications for transmission routes.
A trio of researchers from Campbell University, the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are infecting chicken, beef, pork and salmon with surrogate viruses that have peaks similar to the COVID-causing virus to assess how viral particles of COVID-19 can behave in the cold. The meat samples were stored in refrigeration (4°C) and freezer (-20°C) temperatures. It was not feasible to use true SARS-CoV-2 viruses, using 1 RNA virus with a lipid envelope and 2 animal coronaviruses, mouse hepatitis virus and transmissible gastroenteritis virus as surrogates.
After being refrigerated or frozen for 30 days, the researchers found that the viruses on this meat could still be cultured, meaning they were effectively alive — or as alive as a virus technically could ever be. Although the viruses survived to varying degrees depending on the type of meat they were frozen on, no samples remained free of the virus after spending a month in the cold.
The scientists noted that research may point to the possibility of people getting sick from coming into contact with COVID-infected surfaces, and there are reports of other coronaviruses making people sick after being transferred to fresh produce. As such, the frozen meat could be a way for people to get sick with COVID-19 if they touched contaminated meat and then their faces, and it may even be possible to get sick from eating the meat, although it was noted that this is currently still under discussion. In the future, more research will be done to better understand how SARS-CoV-2 might survive on food.
The research is published in the Applied and Environmental Microbiology log.