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Food Safety Focus (83rd Issue, June 2013) – Food Incident Highlight

Date Palm and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus

Since Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV, formerly known as novel coronavirus) was first recognised in Saudi Arabia last year, there have been more than 60 confirmed cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. Recently, consumption of fruits or juice of date palm contaminated by MERS-CoV infected bats has been suggested as a possible route of infection for MERS-CoV, which has raised public concerns.

Date palm is uncommon in Hong Kong. According to the World Health Organization, MERS-CoV is thought to be of animal origin and to be sporadically transmitted to humans. However, the route of transmission is yet unknown and whether date palm can transmit MERS-CoV is uncertain. As a precautionary measure, freshly collected date palm juice should be boiled and fruits should be thoroughly washed and peeled before consumption. The CFS will continue to monitor the latest development of the incident.