Will steamboat eliminate SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes Covid-19?

by | Feb 11, 2021 | COVID-19, Infectious Diseases, Vaccines

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What is reunion dinner on Chinese New Year Eve if the family doesn’t gather over a meal of steamboat, or hotpot? As CNY approaches, large extended families in Singapore may find themselves having to prepare even more meals than in previous years. With only eight visitors allowed per day, a large clan would have to be split up into multiple groups across separate days before everyone can visit Ah Gong and Ah Ma. Since steamboat basically requires only a soup base and fresh ingredients, many families could possibly be eating hotpot for days.

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But if you think that steamboat is the safest way to serve food during a pandemic because boiling liquid kills viruses, you couldn’t be more wrong. In this article, let’s find out what does and does not kill SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes Covid-19.

Steamboat may not kill the coronavirus which causes Covid-19

A study by French scientists has shown that SARS-CoV-2 is able to survive near boiling point. In labs, the most common protocol for virus deactivation is the one-hour 60-degree Celsius heating technique. This usually works to deactivate most viruses, even the deadly Ebola virus. However, scientists found that some strains of SARS-CoV-2 survived even after being exposed to 60-degree heat for an hour. The residual viruses were present in sufficient number to infect someone.

In this study, the virus culture was only completely denatured after being heated to 92 degrees for 15 minutes.

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Normally, at a meal, steamboat ingredients are only immersed in the pot for a few seconds, or for a few minutes at the very most. The liquid in the hotpot may not even be at boiling point at times. So, should an infected person be present at the table, it is not possible to eradicate all the SARS-CoV-2 particles propagated by his or her droplets, especially if the viral load is high.

Around this time last year in Hong Kong, nine members of the same family were feared to have been infected by Covid-19 after sharing a hotpot meal.

So, what’s the best way to kill Covid-19?

SARS-CoV-2 has a fat-based envelope, which makes it susceptible to detergents, alcohol and other household disinfectants. However, take note that these chemicals are meant to be used on surfaces and are not meant to be ingested. Eating, drinking or putting poisonous disinfectants or chemicals on your skin can injure or kill you!

Probably faster than Covid-19, anyway. But back to the virus.

Viruses are parasitic, which means that they can only reproduce when inside a host’s body. They cannot multiply on their own when deposited on a surface. In fact, some say that they are not even alive in the first place because they do not contain the normal components of a regular living organism. In humans, SARS-CoV-2 usually only reproduce within cells that line the respiratory tract.

The best we can do to eliminate SARS-Cov-2 are: 1) poke holes in their fat-based envelope and compromise their ability to infect a host; 2) prevent the virus from leaping from one host to another. This is why regular hand-washing, cleaning surfaces with disinfectant, and maintaining social distancing is so important in our battle against Covid-19.

Do surfaces coated with anti-microbial spray work on viruses?

Yes, they do, but they are only at their most effective when freshly sprayed on. It is difficult to ascertain for how long they can sustain their efficacy because different surfaces are exposed to different environmental conditions and microbial loads. Once overwhelmed or roughly treated, the anti-microbial coating can lose its effectiveness.

Hence, it is good practice to wash your hands thoroughly with soap at every home you visit this Chinese New Year. If you are the host, spraying down the surfaces of tables, chairs and door handles with a disinfectant after your visitors leave is a good idea, too.

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