Japan is slowly recovering from the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that hit its northern region on March 11. And if those two devastating events weren’t enough, the country is facing a worsening nuclear crisis. People in Tokyo are being advised to avoid drinking and using tap water and there is fear that radiation is contaminating food—which is making other countries cease Japanese imports.
Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and Canada are a few of several countries with some type of precaution, restriction or ban of Japanese products. A recent article on the Wall Street Journal’s website says the contamination risk has been restricted to the Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma provinces, but fresh-food exporters still fear anyway.
So how is this effecting the United States?
“Only a small percent of all food imported to the U.S. comes from Japan according to the FDA,” National Restaurant Association’s Director of Media Relations, Annika Stensson, told us. “So the impact on restaurants is limited. Generally, it affects specialty items more than staple items.”
Bans and Monitoring
To ensure the safety, the FDA is having all milk, milk products, vegetables and fruits from the four Japanese provinces detained. In a recent statement, the FDA says they will not be permitted into the nation’s food supply unless shown to be free from radionuclide contamination.
For other products from those four provinces, including seafood, (which the Wall Street Journal’s article says accounts for less than 2% of U.S. seafood consumption), will be tested by the FDA before entering food supply. Products from other Japanese regions will be monitored and tested as necessary.
The USDA says they don’t believe there should be any concern and that it isn’t likely radiological substances would go undetected through surveillance monitoring.
Also, the USDA reminds us that the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection has a regular process of monitoring for radiological items enabling us to know if food imported from a different country is contaminated.
They have posted a list of questions and answers that address a variety of questions about Japanese imported food.
Effects on Restaurants
Even though many sources say the U.S. will feel minimal effects, there are restaurants being impacted.
SF Station is an online city guide for San Francisco, California, and in a recent article on their Yum Food & Drink Blog, they say the earthquake could severely affect local eateries. They spoke with Michael Black, owner of Sebo, who said he has been ordering most of the fish from Japan. He is offering his normal menu but there’s a lack of fresh fish. Black foresees some struggles in the future as he guesses a bulk of fish will be reserved for Japan.
In another article, by Contra Costa Times, they say Los Angeles officials expect a decline in travel, trade and tourism throughout the city—but not sure how hard.
They quote Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon, who said the amount of both passenger flights and cargo ships between Japan and Los Angeles have slowed which causes an indirect impact on Los Angeles’ economy.
With over 300,000 Japanese tourists coming into Los Angeles just last year, restaurants as well as hotels and stores will feel an impact from this.
How to Help
While the U.S. will feel some effects, they aren’t nearly as devastating as what Japan has gone through and will continue to go through. Restaurants all over the U.S. are finding all kinds of ways to help Japan in their time of crisis.
New York has teamed up with over 60 restaurants for “Dine Out for Japan,” which means they will donate 5 percent of sales from March 23 through March 30 to victims. And the Denver Post revealed three restaurants; Sushi Den, Izakaya Den and OTOTO Food and Wine in Denver, Colorado have raised over $50,000 for the Japanese Red Cross and are continuing efforts.
These are few of many efforts. There are many ways to donate to Japan. Be sure if you or your restaurant raises money it goes to a credible source. The Red Cross is one of many, click here to donate.
And if your establishment has been effected by the recent events in Japan, or has a story about gathering donations, please share. Our thoughts are with the people in Japan.