When it comes to tasks of food sanitation supervisors, it is somewhat difficult to stipulate what they should aim for. If their companies ordered them to obtain international certifications, it would naturally be their target. However, obtaining certifications is nothing more than a step and cannot possibly be their final goal.
Now, how food hygiene environment of Japan has been fostered? Considering this question may reveal an essential part of their tasks.
I have mentioned in my previous columns that Japan has a high level of food sanitation in comparison to other countries.What enabled Japan to reach that level? The history of Japan’s food hygiene activities reveals the outline.
One of the main driving forces has been a series of government initiatives. In Japan, food-poisoning fatality dramatically decreased around 1980 and has been close to zero since then.
Ministry of Health and Welfare of the time was focused on reducing the food bacteria count in order to improve food sanitation. In 1985, the ministry concluded that food hygiene in Japan reached a certain level as a result of their efforts, and changed the name of Food Sanitation Division of Environmental Health Bureau into Food Health Division. This measns, what matters in dietary habits changed from food sanitation reducing viable microorganisms in food to health maintenance and improvement
Sanitation places emphasis on protecting lives of people, so eliminating bacteria from food inevitably counts for a great deal. This led to development and use of various additives and agricultural chemicals, which resulted in mass generation of allergy sufferers in return for the reduction of food bacteria count. Then the concept of “health maintenance” entered the spotlight. Japanese people began to choose food that contributes their health and gradually became health conscious.
Right after the name change, however, massive food-poisoning scandal caused by enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli O157 occurred in Okayama, Osaka and other cities in Japan and killed 8 people in 1996. This led to another name change in 2001 from Food Health Division of Environmental Health Bureau to Inspection and Safety Division of Food Safety Department. That is to say, the Ministry returned to their early standpoint of food sanitation.
As the result, HACCP system as a food hygiene control method began to be recommended. Japan Revitalization Strategy pursued by the Cabinet proclaimed last year that food manufacturers should introduce the HACCP system into their workplace.
Food hygiene in post-war Japan has been initiated by the government. As can be seen from the outcome, the initiative has achieved significant results. Of course the results owe not only to the government but also to the rise of convenience stores and major supermarket chains that have altered the way of Japan’s food hygiene and culture.
As discussed above, the country’s direction has greatly influenced the present food hygiene environment in Japan. Now, what should food sanitation supervisors aim for in carrying out their works? They are forced to reduce the food-poisoning incidence from present 0.0002% to still lower. This surely is a tough challenge.
I’m going to drill down on this issue in my next column.