WASHINGTON- Your own fridge could be the reason you catch COVID-19 within a month, a new study warns. Researchers have found that the virus can survive in various meat products that people keep in their refrigerators or freezers for more than 30 days.
In their study, the researchers looked at chicken, beef, pork, and salmon products, storing them in refrigerators at 39.2 degrees Fahrenheit and in freezers at -4 degrees Fahrenheit. They exposed the meat to surrogate viruses – which have similar spike proteins to the SARS-CoV-2 virus but are less harmful to humans.
“While you can’t keep meat in the fridge for 30 days, you can keep it in the freezer for just as long,” study first author Emily Bailey of Campbell University said in a press release. “We even discovered that viruses could be cultured after [being frozen for] this duration. »
The team notes that they began their investigation after hearing reports of COVID outbreaks in parts of Southeast Asia that had no previous record of community transmission. Bailey says COVID tracing in these communities “suggested that packaged meat products, produced in areas where SARS-CoV-2 was circulating, could have been the source of the virus.”
“Our goal was to determine whether or not similar viruses could survive in this environment,” adds Bailey.
COVID can jump from your freezer to your gut
The study authors say that SARS-CoV-2 is able to replicate in a person’s gut, as well as in their airways. This makes the study of foodborne viral transmission even more important during the pandemic. Previous studies have suggested that COVID-19 actually impacts a patient’s gut before respiratory symptoms begin.
Other reports have also linked worsening severity of COVID-19 to poor gut health in a patient.
During the new study, the researchers replaced COVID-19 with three different surrogates – an RNA virus with a lipid envelope and two animal coronaviruses (murine hepatitis virus and transmissible gastroenteritis virus).
All three are common surrogates for SARS-CoV-2 in science experiments. However, the researchers say that these viruses see their numbers decrease more at low temperatures, both in the refrigerator and in the freezer. This could mean COVID is even more cold hardy. The study authors also note that viral loads surviving in frozen meat vary depending on the food.
“Continued efforts are needed to prevent contamination of food and food processing surfaces, workers’ hands, and food processing utensils such as knives,” the investigators wrote in a statement. Additionally, “the absence or inadequacy of sanitizing of these foods prior to packaging must be addressed.”
The results are published in the journal Applied and environmental microbiology.