Fact Check

Did Ice Cream Test Positive for COVID-19?

Considering its cold temperature and fatty ingredients, one virologist said ice cream could harbor conditions for the virus to survive.

Published Jan 18, 2021

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In January 2021, Chinese health officials detected the coronavirus in ice cream produced in Tianjin.

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In mid-January 2021, more than a year after COVID-19 was first detected in China, reports surfaced online alleging that ice cream produced in the country's northeastern city of Tianjin tested positive for the virus that had killed more than 2 million people globally.

Numerous Snopes readers asked us to investigate the legitimacy of this claim, which was broadcast by news outlets including The Huffington Post, Sky News, and China Daily.

We obtained a news release from the Tianjin Municipal People's Government, confirming the reports true.

According to the statement, which the government published on its website on Jan. 15, epidemiologists in the city's Jinnan District screened ice cream of a variety of flavors from Tianjin Daqiaodao Food Co., Ltd., and several samples tested positive for the coronavirus. Their ingredients included New Zealand milk powder and whey powder from Ukraine.

Following that discovery, health officials ordered the company to temporarily close, and all employees to take COVID-19 tests. A Mandarin-to-English translation of the release said:

As of 14:00 on January 14th, the company has been fully sealed and controlled, and personnel and goods are prohibited from entering and leaving; the inventory of epidemic-related goods has been sealed, and the goods out of the warehouse have been tracked; all employees of the company have been quarantined [...]

Up to now, 1,662 relevant employees of the company have all been controlled and tested, of which 700 have a negative nucleic acid test result, and the remaining results are yet to be released.

In total, the company produced more than 4,800 boxes of contaminated ice cream — roughly 2,090 of which were sealed away in storage waiting to be sold, according to the release. An additional 2,750 boxes, however, entered the market, including more than 930 in Tianjin, and approximately 1,800 that went to businesses outside of the city, which is adjacent to Beijing.

"If you have recently purchased this product, please contact the community to report," the release read. "At present, the traceability of the source of the virus is still in progress."

Dr. Stephen Griffin, a virologist based at the University of Leeds, told the British news outlet Sky News one or more people likely transmitted the virus to ice cream ingredients during production.

Considering the product's cold temperature and fatty ingredients, ice cream could harbor conditions for the virus to survive. However, he said, that was not typical, and people worldwide do not need to be concerned that all ice cream is susceptible to coronavirus contamination.

"This is probably a one-off [situation]," he said. "Of course, any level of contamination is not acceptable and always a cause for concern, but the chances are that this is the result of an issue with the production plant and potentially down to hygiene at the factory."

Jessica Lee is Snopes' Senior Assignments Editor with expertise in investigative storytelling, media literacy advocacy and digital audience engagement.

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