Here are three appalling and astonishing statistics, the first from the U.N.’s World Food Program, the second from Japan’s environment ministry, the third courtesy of Josei Jishin (Feb 28).
(1) Roughly 795 million people worldwide – one-ninth of the global population – go to bed hungry at night.
(2) Japan trashes annually some 6.32 million tons of perfectly good food.
(3) An average Japanese family of four trashes annually about 60,000 yen worth of perfectly good food.
Josei Jishin’s source is consumer advisor Rumi Ide, an expert on “food loss.” Largely to blame, she says, is consumer obsession with “shomi kigen” – the use-by date the Food Sanitation Law requires be stamped on all Japanese food product packaging. Shomi kigen is an important and valuable guideline, but need not, says Ide, be taken quite literally.
Another date – “shohi kigen” (consume-by date) – is more compelling, and though the difference isn’t immediately apparent in translation, shohi kigen pertains to the product’s safety, whereas shomi kigen indicates the point beyond which the product may become less tasty. Or (more likely) may not.
Take eggs, for instance. Generally the shomi kigen is two weeks after production, which is appropriate for eggs eaten raw in summer but not, say, for eggs eaten cooked in winter. In that case, says Ide, an egg is good for 57 days after production. In spring, figure 25 days after production.
Natto, says Ide, is good for two to three days beyond the one week the shomi kigen provides for; instant noodles, for a month beyond shomi kigen; retort-pouched food items like curry and pasta sauce, for at least double the one-year limit stamped on the package. And so on down the list. Canned foods, honey, umeboshi and tea leaves are the other examples provided, all of them good somewhat if not far beyond the shohi kigen. Some are even tastier shortly after it.
Better, consumers and producers might well think – the former fearing health issues, the latter lawsuits – to err on the side of caution. Consumers, aware of past food industry scandals, are understandably wary. Who knows what the industrial food producers are feeding us? Chemical colorings, flavor enhancers, preservatives and pre-cooked instant meals are all important to a culture that has less and less time to spend on home cooking. If the industry, backed by the law, advises consumption before a certain date, it would seem the last word on the subject. It’s not, though. The last word is: food loss.
Ide’s rule of thumb is that shomi kigen dates are 20% too short, give or take. Beyond that, “use your five senses,” she exhorts. They were the instruments that served before shomi kigen began appearing in 1995, and they worked well. “Before you throw something out,” Ide says, “put your five senses to work as people used to.” Does it look funny? Smell funny? If not – eat it. “You’ll not only reduce food waste,” says Josei Jishin, “you’ll see the difference in your food budget.”© Japan Today