German pork knuckles ‘scapegoat’ for N American pig heads in Tianjin infections

▲Photo: Xinhua

A health official in North China’s Tianjin, who has been dubbed China’s Sherlock Holmes, has cracked the mysterious case of the latest COVID-19 infections in the municipality and helped “clear the name” of German pork knuckles, which were previously believed to be the source of recent infections. 

Zhang Ying, a deputy director at the Tianjin Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, outlined the epidemiological investigation at Tuesday’s media briefing and said recent infections were caused by pig heads from North America, which contaminated pork knuckles from Germany. 

Zhang noted that the center had received reports from Dezhou, East China’s Shandong Province, that a batch of pork knuckles imported from Germany via a Tianjin port was coronavirus-positive. Tianjin then screened Hailian Frozen Food Co and found two confirmed patients, a loader of the knuckles and a truck driver.

Many people then believed that the pork knuckles from Germany must be  the source of the recent infections, while the German side felt wronged. The German Ministry for Food and Agriculture said it was unlikely that German pork knuckles had triggered infections in China.

Further investigations found that the driver had no direct contact with the pork knuckles – but had transported pig heads from North America. The loader had handled both the pig heads and the knuckles. 

The same worker wearing the same pair of gloves and clothes then carried the pork knuckles the next day, which resulted in a positive result for the pork knuckles’ packaging in Dezhou, Zhang said. 

The recent infections in Tianjin were caused by pig heads imported from North America, which contaminated the German pork knuckles while they were in the same loading platform before being stored in different zones, Zhang said. 

Zhang and her team were assigned a new role of looking for clues involved with each imported case after such cases appeared in China several months ago. Zhang had successfully located the sources of several imported cases after investigations, earning her the nickname of China’s Sherlock Holmes. 

According to Chinese Customs’ list of licensed exporters, 475 US companies and 42 Canadian companies are approved to conduct pork trading business with China. Three from the US and nine from Canada suspended such exports this year. 

The latest information from Customs showed that 99 companies from 20 countries and regions had suspended exports to China due to the pandemic, 84 making the decision initially. Experts also suggested the use of a circuit-breaker mechanism for certain products to reduce the risk of object-human transmissions. 

Amid the latest coronavirus-positive cases involving imported frozen food, the Global Times found that retailer COSTCO and Metro in Shanghai were selling such food at about 15 percent off. A worker at COSTCO told the Global Times that the price reduction was related to recent outbreaks.

Newspaper headline: German knuckles ‘scapegoat’ for N.American pig heads

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