EDITORIAL: Waste resale scandal puts safety of Japan’s food industry into question
Industrial food waste, which should have been properly disposed of, has been found to be circulating in the market disguised as food products.
The illegal sale of waste food items by an industrial waste disposal company in Aichi Prefecture surfaced after frozen beef cutlets discarded from Ichibanya Co., operator of a national chain of curry houses, were found on sale. There are indications that some of the cutlets had thawed before they appeared on the market, which could have harmed consumers' health.
The company’s chairman has admitted to his lawyer that he committed the irregularity for the sake of sales. We are only left to stare dumbfounded at the way rules were ignored.
One hundred and eight other items were found at facilities of a company in Gifu Prefecture, which bought the cutlets from the industrial waste disposal company and resold them. To current knowledge, those products come from manufacturers and distributors based in 25 areas ranging from Hokkaido to Miyazaki Prefecture.
The food items, likely diverted off legal sales channels, include products from such major firms as Aeon Co. and Marukome Co.
We are only left to watch the extent of the scandal’s reach. We hope the police will investigate the case through and through. The government should also conduct a nationwide survey.
The frozen beef cutlets in question, which had been discarded due to the suspected mixing in of foreign substances, returned to the channels of budget markets and were passed on among more than one tier of brokers after they were sold by the company in Gifu Prefecture.
“We never suspected the products were waste items, because we know stock items are sometimes distributed at low prices,” one of the brokers said.
But how could one assess the safety of food products without identifying their origins?
Irresponsible transactions could pour cold water on serious efforts at offering budget prices to meet consumer demand and on the activity of food banks and other entities that are providing surplus food items, which have no quality issues, to impoverished people and others.
Ichibanya, which saw its products mishandled, had left the cutlets intact when it commissioned the industrial waste disposal company to dispose of them. They ended up being sold illegally, partly because they retained the appearance of food products.
Ichibanya made the right move by promptly formulating improvement measures after the scandal came to light. The company has said it will henceforth ensure its waste food products are destroyed so they can no longer be reused, or alternatively, if that is not possible, make sure its employees attend the disposal process, down to the final stages, for visual confirmation.
We hope those measures will help prevent a recurrence of improprieties.
Other food manufacturers should also intensify their monitoring to ensure their waste items are being properly processed.
The waste management and public cleansing law stipulates that dischargers of business-related wastes should be responsible for their disposal.
Two and a half million tons of food items are discarded annually in Japan as industrial waste. That immensity is partially attributed to the so-called “one-third rule” of the food industry, a business practice whereby products are not allowed to be delivered to retailers when one-third of the period from the manufacture date through the best-before date has passed, and whereby retailers take them off the shelves when two-thirds of that period have elapsed.
Mass disposal of food products that remain edible is a built-in feature of Japan’s food industry. One could say the latest scandal thrust that reality back into the spotlight.