Commissaries to sell Japanese produce again, 2 years after disaster
By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 7, 2013
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Shoppers at base commissaries can look forward to fresher food at lower prices after officials decided it’s again safe to stock produce aisles with foods from the parts of Japan that were affected by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The release of radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, following a massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, prompted the U.S. Department of Defense to cut deliveries of foods ranging from baked goods and eggs to fresh fruit, vegetables and processed items from 26 producers in northern Japan.
Since September of that year, when a ban on apples from Aomori Prefecture was rescinded, the military has been gradually relaxing the restrictions.
Army Lt. Col. Brian Kim, commander of Public Health Command District Japan, said Friday that the last remaining bans — on food from the Kanto, Tohoku and Chubu regions — ended Thursday.
“After doing extensive research, as well as looking at Japanese data, and setting up a radiological surveillance program at our command, we are able to give assurance to the DOD community that locally procured items are safe,” Kim said.
Officials were mainly concerned about radiological contamination of food procured for commissaries, dining facilities and Navy ships, he said.
“We looked at the data and took thousands of samples of locally procured produce,” he said. “Not one item passed the threshold for unsafe radiological levels.”
Some parts of Japan remain badly contaminated by radiation from Fukushima, but Kim said there’s no chance of food from those areas making it into the U.S. military food chain because the Japanese government has its own food safety standards, he said.
The regions affected by the ban include some of Japan’s most productive farming areas. In the past two years the military has been forced to bring in food from distant parts of the country, which has added to transport costs, Kim said. So costs should drop while variety improves.
“You will see more variety of fruits and vegetables in commissaries and dining facilities,” Kim said. “You will see more types of apples and some fruits, and any of the leafy vegetables will be coming from areas that are closer.”
Air Force spouse Satoko Gadbois, who was shopping at Yokota commissary Friday, said she hasn’t worried about radiation in Japanese food but will appreciate the changes. She often can’t find some of the produce she wants, such as Japanese mushrooms and radishes, at the commissary.
“I’m not so much worried about the price, but if it is good quality and fresh, that would be wonderful,” she said.
Another Air Force spouse shopping at Yokota on Friday, Kristina Putz, looked forward to lower prices, saying she was shocked at the costs of commissary produce.
“It’s almost hard to eat healthy when the food is so expensive,” she said.
Lt. Col. Brian Kim, chief of the Army's Public Health Command District Japan, announces the end of restrictions on procuring Japanese produce at the Yokota Commissary on Friday. The Department of Defense stopped sourcing food for its personnel from many parts of Japan due to fears about radiological contamination after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes