The ripple effect from the recent earthquake in Japan and the unstable conditions at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is far-reaching. For example, food producers near the power plant and beyond are producing food that is contaminated with radiation.
A spokesman for The World Health Organization (WHO) says there is “no evidence of contaminated food from Fukushima reaching other countries.” It seems the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) isn’t taking any chances. The agency has issued an import alert “regarding the importation of all milk and milk products and fresh vegetables and fruits produced or manufactured from the four Japanese prefectures of Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma.”
The FDA will closely inspect imports from Japan to make sure food from those areas does not enter the country.
What foods does the United States import from Japan? According to the FDA, less than 4 percent of our imported food comes from Japan. Seafood, snack foods and processed fruits and vegetables are the most commonly imported foods from Japan.
Contaminated dairy products seem to be of particular concern. Of all the foods imported from Japan, dairy products make up only one-tenth of 1 percent. Most dairy products in our country are produced in our country, according to the FDA.
Japan’s ability to export products right now, especially from the damaged and contaminated areas, is limited. There doesn’t seem to be too much of a danger of contaminated foods entering U.S. markets, but here are some commonsense steps to take if you are concerned.
- Fresh produce. Little fresh produce is imported from Japan. Most stores indicate the country of origin on produce either on the package or the sticker. It should be easy to avoid Japanese produce in large grocery stores. In smaller stores or ethnic markets, if the produce is not clearly labeled, ask.
- Meat and fish. Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) is required on meat products, so a quick look at the packaging should tell you where grocery meat and fish originated. At meat and fish counters in markets, labeling should exist, but if it does not, ask. Since seafood is one of the items most often imported from Japan, you should be especially vigilant. The FDA doesn’t see much of a danger with seafood, saying, “The great quantity of water in the Pacific Ocean rapidly and effectively dilutes radioactive material, so fish and seafood are likely to be unaffected. However, FDA is taking all steps to evaluate and measure any contamination in fish presented for import into the U.S.”
- Processed and packaged foods. These might be the more difficult foods to assess because there are often several ingredients in processed and packaged foods. While a package might say where a food was manufactured, it does not always say where all of the ingredients originated. Read packages carefully, and if in doubt, don't buy the food.
Again, the chances of contaminated products entering our food system are small. As time goes on, and Japan begins to rebuild its infrastructure and its ability to export more products, further measures might need to be taken. At the moment, using your common sense and looking at food labels will probably be enough.