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Fact/Fiction: Did Coca Cola, kiwis and ice cream test positive for Covid-19? 

Old news, truthfully retold. This week we look at whether food can contain Covid-19 after reports of kiwi fruits, ice cream and even Coca Cola recording positive test results

Every week in Fact/Fiction, The Big Issue examines spurious claims, questionable studies or debatable stories from the press to determine whether they are fact or fiction. This week we analyse whether reports in the press about kiwi fruit, Coca Cola and ice cream testing positive for Covid-19 really do have any truth to them.

How it was told

The start of the new year is traditionally the time to lay off the food a bit.

Whether you’ve gone vegan for Veganuary or just cut back on the sweet stuff, it’s traditionally a time to put the gluttony and the indulgence of Christmas behind you.

If that hasn’t done the trick – news reports last week might have been enough to put you off your grub.

The stories centred on China’s Tianjin Municipality and the Tianjin Daqiaodao Food Company with several outlets reporting on a shipment of ice cream testing positive for Covid-19.

Sky News ran the story under the headline: “Covid-19: Ice cream tests positive for coronavirus in China” while The Independent kept it straightforward with “Ice cream tests positive for coronavirus in China”.

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Mail Online took more detailed approach building on reporting from China Daily, opting for: “More than 4,800 boxes of ice cream are found to be contaminated with Covid in China as authorities scramble to contact people who could be affected”.

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But this story wasn’t the only report of food testing positive for the virus at the time. On social media there were claims that Covid-19 tests were either unreliable or food and drink was contaminated as kiwis and CocaCola both produced positive results.

With plenty of kiwis and ice cream cartons guzzled and plenty of cans of Coke sunk during lockdown, surely there is no danger here?

Or is there? 

Facts. Checked

It is true that boxes containing ice cream did test positive for Covid-19 but, as for kiwis and CocaCola, the matter is less conclusive.

In either case, current evidence suggests that the chance of contracting Covid-19 from food remains low, particularly during current lockdown restrictions which limit contact with others indoors.

To be fair to the media outlets that covered the ice cream story, they did a good job of reflecting the need for caution when interpreting the story, which reportedly led to 1,662 company employees self-isolating following the positive tests.

All ran comments originally made to Sky News from Dr Stephen Griffin, a virologist based at the University of Leeds. Dr Griffin said the most probable cause lay with hygiene issues at the factory but played down the situation. He said: “We probably don’t need to panic that every bit of ice cream is suddenly going to be contaminated with coronavirus.

However, the positive tests recorded on kiwis and CocaCola are not as clear cut. The social media posts relating to the soft drink go back to an Austrian parliament test from December. According to German publication Welt, National Council of Austria general secretary Michael Schnedlitz pulled out a rapid antigen test manufactured by Dialab and a glass of CocaCola and tested the drink in parliament.

Schnedlitz claimed that the test showed a positive result. But, as Dialab later explainedthe test was conducted incorrectly as the drink was not swirled with a buffer to keep the pH value constant. Without that buffer, the antibody proteins of the test are destroyed and that indicates a positive test result.

It’s a similar story for the kiwis, which are also acidic. Factcheckers Full Fact investigated that case and Dr Alexander Edwards, an associate professor in biomedical technology at University of Reading, told them: “If you completely ignore the manufacturer’s instructions or in fact use the test for something completely different, then you shouldn’t really be surprised if you get a silly result.

As pointed out by IFL Science’s “Ice cream tests positive for COVID-19, but what’s the risk?”, food can become contaminated with Covid-19 and the virus can remain for some time.

And the area of research has not been extensive. A review of evidence from October, published in Environmental Chemistry Letters, found that “gaps for contaminated consumer foods, especially refrigerated and frozen varieties, to become long-range carriers of SARS-CoV-2” do exist.

But the risk appears to be extremely low so continue digging in. 

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