The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is planning to set up a nationwide system via which companies will be required to report all food recalls to town, cities and prefectures, with the data to be collated and shared online, ministry sources said Monday.
There is no system in place to give the central government a nationwide picture of food recalls because reporting them is not obligatory across Japan.
The government is expected to submit a bill to the Diet next year to revise the food sanitation while considering penalties for businesses that fail to report recalls.
The ministry is also eying the development of a system to let companies report recalls online and create websites for notifying consumers. It has already earmarked expenses for such a project in its budget request for fiscal 2018 starting in April.
Cases involving contamination, tampering, insufficient thermal sterilization and inadequate labeling for allergic ingredients are subject to recalls.
By unifying such data, the government plans to more effectively warn manufacturers and consumers while ensuring that information on products that pose risks is shared among local authorities.
In a survey of 140 government authorities, 108 said they required companies to report food recalls, according to the ministry. The rest did not require manufacturers to do so.
Among data collected by local authorities that impose recall-reporting obligations on businesses, a total of 967 recalls were found in the year through March 2017, but the actual figure is assumed to be higher.
Although most recall cases do not pose a danger to consumers, some serious health problems have been reported.
Last year, a number of people were infected with the O-157 strain of E. coli bacteria after eating frozen meat cutlets sold by a food company in Kanagawa Prefecture.
The United States and the European Union already have established systems through which manufacturers report food recalls, according to the ministry.
“Just like automobiles and drugs, we need a new system regarding food (recalls) to protect consumers in Japan as well,” a ministry official said.