Snacks Keep Testing Positive for Coronavirus in China

From ice cream to dates, traces of coronavirus found on food have set off scare in China.
February 2, 2021, 10:27am
Ice cream and dates tested positive for coronavirus
Traces of the coronavirus have been found on ice cream. PHOTO: NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP

Chinese authorities are tracing tons of snacks made with milk powder that regulators said was contaminated by the coronavirus.

Last month, authorities found traces of the coronavirus in a batch of whey powder imported from Ukraine. At the time of the Jan. 18 discovery, 10 metric tons of the powder had been shipped to a company in the northern province of Shandong that produces so-called milk dates, a popular candy-like snack made with milk, dates, and almonds. 

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Officials then ordered a nationwide search for the 22.22 metric tons of milk dates sold by the company, examining thousands of orders placed on e-commerce sites operated by firms including Alibaba and Pinduoduo. Hundreds of people who were found to have handled the shipments or eaten the snacks have been tested for the virus.

The same batch of whey powder was also used to make ice cream in the northern city of Tianjin in January. More than 2,000 boxes of unsold ice cream were discarded after traces of the coronavirus were found on three samples. 

China almost eliminated domestic transmissions of the coronavirus in 2020, but it is now facing a new wave of clusters in the northern part of the country. 

The government, determined to bring the case numbers back to zero, has made particular efforts to prevent the virus from spreading into China through imported food, even as the World Health Organization has reported no evidence of COVID transmissions through food or food packaging.

Regulators say they have discovered the coronavirus on the packaging of Brazilian beef, Russian cod, and pig’s ear from the United States. Some of the exporters were temporarily barring from shipping products to China.

State media have cited the virus found on imported frozen food in promoting theories that the coronavirus that caused COVID-19, though first detected in Wuhan, could have originated outside China.

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No one has been found to have caught the coronavirus from the milk dates. But a number of cities have reported positive coronavirus test results from the allegedly contaminated milk dates, setting off a wave of scare surrounding the popular snack.

On Taobao, Alibaba’s shopping site, consumers have posted questions on the milk dates’ product pages. “Will I get quarantined after I eat this,” one commenter asked.

At a press conference dedicated to the milk dates on Tuesday, officials in Shandong province said the positive test results likely came from small pieces of nucleic acids or dead viruses, which were unable to cause infections. 

Follow Viola Zhou on Twitter.