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Supermarket investigator exposes slipshod quality management


How fresh is the food you buy? It’s common enough to see “Super Sale” and “Special Discount” products at supermarkets, but how much do shoppers know about the quality of the food they buy?

“Consumer awareness of food safety has risen since the chain of food-related incidents such as the contaminated gyoza dumplings from China, left-over food served by the restaurant Senba Kiccho and deceptive labeling of origin of eels. But there is a major problem that many overlook … the fact that local supermarkets are also involved in various kinds of falsifications," says Hirokazu Kawagishi.

Kawagishi has been in the food industry for 25 years and currently works for a leading distributive firm, specializing in quality and hygiene management. He conducted his own investigation of over 500 supermarkets throughout Japan and will publish his book “Supa no Uragawa" (The Seamy Side of Supermarkets) this month.

Kawagishi emphasizes the importance of supermarkets in view of the economic downturn and consumers’ efforts to save money by eating home-cooked meals. He states that supermarkets shouldn’t deceive its customers, yet his investigation conveys a reality far worse than imagined.

For example, mackerel advertised as "caught in the morning" could actually be the morning of the day before, or even worse, 2 to 3 days ago. Kawagishi says some supermarkets have absolutely no qualms, since the fish was indeed "caught in the morning."

Inspection of a store’s sanitary condition is also a part of this food specialist’s job. “There’s something definitely wrong if you find any pieces of instant noodle or rice on the floor of the aisle where these products are sold. Scratches or Y-shaped marks and dark scuffmarks on the shelves or nearby columns – these may indicate rat infestation.”

The lax temperature regulation of food usually involves milk and eggs. Kawagishi points to the way milk cartons may be stacked up in supermarket refrigerators. Since the temperature is lowest at the bottom of the refrigerator, the cartons at the top of the stack are hardly chilled. Temperature control is fundamental in the management of food products, yet in contrast to the U.S., Mexico and Asian countries Kawagishi has visited, only in Japan are eggs sold at room temperature – neglecting the danger of salmonella poisoning.

Price tags may say that the tomatoes are from Aichi but placed in boxes marked "Tsukuba Japan Agricultural Cooperative." While this may be a simple mistake, it is actually a breach of JAS [Japan Agricultural Standards] regulations.

Only a food professional like Kawagishi can easily tell if "fresh" meat or vegetables are recycled products. Meat left over from the day may be repackaged to show the "fresher" looking side, while labels are swapped to change the processing date to the next day. Various kinds of fruit may be cut and sliced to remove the spoiled parts and sold in a container as "fruit salad." Such examples of falsification and consumer deception seem endless.

According to the inspection division of one municipal health center, the current Food Sanitation Law does not require labeling of the processing date for fresh meat, although altering the expiration date would be considered a violation. Health centers may "instruct" food retail stores on matters such as keeping milk refrigerated at less than 10 degrees C or regular pest control, but will not conduct any store inspection unless some kind of damage is reported – by consumers.

In other words, food management is left up to the individual supermarket. As Kawagishi comments, “Of course, there are many stores that manage their products properly, but it is also true that many others make light of consumer awareness. Rather than waiting for the government to take action, it is more important for consumers to learn to scrutinize products.”

© Japan Today

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Grocery stores in Japan SUCK. Period. Poor quality especially in produce. And how eggs are handled here has put me off them almost entirely. Especially in summer when unrefrigerated eggs make eating them partially cooked a demand for time in your local hospital.

But this is indicative of deeper problems. Japan has a lax view of consumer rights in any case. And the passive consumer market makes this even easier. Where else in the modern world do you see companies get away with policies that clearly show no regard for clients. Take Yahoo BB's impossible to cancel trial period or other companies impossibly complex systems that are designed to milk customers for money without giving anything back.

I blame consumers here for being a bunch of weak sheep with no spine to complain and demand better consumer consideration. Until consumers use their buying power to fight back, companies will continue to cheat. Period!

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Ew, rats in supermarkets. I suppose that would be normal challenge but I've never thought of it.

Some stores I go to are great, others awful. One store I frequent always has really nasty brocolli; the heads are always a shade of grey-blue whilst in other stores it's green.

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>For example, mackerel advertised as “caught in the morning” could actually be the morning of the day before, or even worse, 2 to 3 days ago. Kawagishi says some supermarkets have absolutely no qualms, since the fish was indeed “caught in the morning.”

Sorry, but this made me laugh.

Rats - Before I lived near a supermarket and they had one of those sonic sound devices designed to keep rats away. The lettering on the box was "By-By Rat" O.o

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What Hirokazu Kawagishi is saying is CORRECT.

A super near my home where I do shopping, they put tomato upside down, when open at home most of them are dirty. Now I have learned this trick so I checked before I buy. Grape fruit extra service with Fungus, should I be thankful to them. Tea some time old stock, what if taste is not good drink it ok! And last night I purchased pack of apples, when I wanted to eat most of them were dirty like trash.

Just imagine, I have paid the money as super store wanted and what I got bad things. So what? nothing. Public is to suffer right. Law is for ordinary citizens.

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I think most food stores here are fantastic. The quality of fruits and vegetables does not compare to the US. US fruits and vegetables are tasteless. I never ever heard of anyone getting salmonella from eggs here or anything else. I dig to the back of the milk piles and find the latest date. You can look at the eyes of a fish to see how long it has been dead. Only had funky smelling chicken here once in 26 years. Stateside once a month.

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Yep, fruit and veges that would pass for fine back home get thrown in the half price bin, use-by dates for dairy products are far stricter than they need to be.

Fish and meat are either consistently good or bad depending on the supermarket - you only need to try the sashimi once to get an idea.

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Lived here almost 10 years and find the newer supermarkets in Jusco or places like that you go to by car, very high quality. The local supermarkets near small stations or Daiei are hit or miss and generally not well kept up.

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In canada, I've been in supermarkets where meet was kept in 13C fridges, or kept in aisles for hours before being put away. Not to mention mice. It's more about the quality of management rather than regulations.

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If we all lived on three sho of rice a day then none of this would matter.

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I never got food poisoning in the entire time I lived in Japan. The quality of food was consistently good at the supermarkets in Niigata.

And eggs are sold unrefrigerated in NZ as well....

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Wow. I guess I'm pretty stupid because all this time I thought, "There must be something special about their eggs-- like they're so organic, cage-free, and fresh that refrigeration isn't necessary. When really, they're just as dangerous. To add to the danger, when I was in Japan I ate them raw much more often than in the US. I feel like an idiot!

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Yelnats...first time I've ever heard that,a lot Japanese wouldn't agree with you.You can't compare fruit and veg with an American or Aussie supermarket.

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Yelnats: You can look at the eyes of a fish to see how long it has been dead.

Also, make sure to check behind the gills for an expiration date. Of course, if you look deeply into its eyes and the fish looks back at you and winks, by all means take it home. Some species of fish will sometimes "play dead" to avoid the frying pan. This is understandable, however, since not all fish are fond of being eaten. How do you tell a good catch? If you think a fish is simply playing dead, grab them firmly by the pectoral fins and French kiss them for at least one minute. If this doesn't work, blame the French. Always blame the French, never the fish. Make sure the fish understands you are not an anti-European idiot. I recommend taking the fish out to a good Italian restaurant, but avoid the calamari; its considered rude.

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30061015 ??? you bought the wrong mushrooms?

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Eggs in the UK supermarkets are unrefridgerated too. Tesco is fine, but Morrisons always has loads of broken ones. You get sticky fingers just opening the boxes to try to find 6 unbroken ones.

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wrong mushrooms?

Just highlighting the fact that first world shoppers are a pampered lot on a planet where almost a billion search the trash for food and go to bed hungry every night.

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At most restaurants I think you're getting irradiated eggs. I know there's at least one company that specializes.

In Nara a few years ago a seven year old girl died eating sukiyaki with her family at home. Hers was the only egg in the pack that was salmonella infected.

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