Fukushima Nuclear Facility: What About Food Safety?

Damaged nuclear reactors at the Fukushima facility resulted in elevated radiation levels near the power plant following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Most recently, questions from the United States have focused on the safety of food imported from Japan. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  have answered the call for information. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) have also issued food safety statements.

 

A few answers from the FDA

What food products come to the US from Japan?

Foods imported from Japan make up less than 4 percent of foods imported from all sources. The most common food products imported from Japan include seafood, snack foods and processed fruits and vegetables. Dairy products make up only one-tenth of one percent of all FDA-regulated products imported from Japan.

Is there any reason for concern about radiation from these products when they are imported into the US?

There are no concerns for products that were already in transit when the explosion occurred at the reactor. Right now, due to the damage to the Japanese infrastructure, FDA believes export activity is severely limited. FDA is monitoring all import records for Japan to determine when importation will resume.

How does the FDA protect the US food supply?

There are more than 900 investigators and 450 analysts in FDA’s Foods program who conduct inspections and

An FDA micorbiologist mixes seafood samples with an enrichment broth to test for microorganisms
FDA microbiologist

 collect and analyze product samples. The FDA oversees the importation of regulated products, including food and animal feed, among other responsibilities. The Agency carries out targeted (those that may pose a significant public health threat) risk-based analyses of imports at points of entry. Although FDA doesn’t physically inspect every product, the Agency electronically screens 100 percent of imported food products before they reach our borders.

What are the current procedures for measuring radiation contamination in food?

FDA has procedures and laboratory techniques for measuring radionuclide levels in food, and can also use the Food Emergency Response Network (FERN). FERN integrates the nation’s food-testing laboratories at the local, state and federal levels into a network that is able to respond to emergencies involving biological, chemical or radiological contamination of food. FDA is working with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to share resources and techniques for measuring contamination. FDA and other domestic regulatory labs have validated analytical methods to detect radiological contamination in food.

How will the radiation affect fish and seafood that have not yet been fished or harvested?

The quantity of water in the Pacific Ocean is great enough to rapidly and effectively dilute radioactive material, so fish and seafood are likely to be unaffected. However, FDA is taking all steps to evaluate and measure any contamination in fish presented for import into the US.

Related EDEN page: Nuclear Release