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A Sapporo-based confectionary company has joined the list of food manufacturers accused of unethical practices, by falsifying expiration dates on its main product and shipping other products contaminated with colon bacilli or staphylococci, both of which can cause food poisoning.

Ishiya Trading Co. has not only deepened consumer distrust of food manufacturers but also tarnished the wholesome image of food products from Hokkaido. Its responsibility is great because its main product, Shiroi Koibito (White Lover) chocolate cookies, is a representative souvenir of Hokkaido.

Unfortunately, major food manufacturing scandals in recent years have involved more than one Hokkaido-related company. In 2000, spoiled milk sold by Snow Brand Milk Products Co., which originated in Hokkaido, sickened about 14,000 people. In June 2007, Meat Hope Co. of Tomakomai, Hokkaido, was found to have mislabeled their meat products. In January, the Tokyo-based Fujiya Co. had been found to have used milk that had passed its expiration date to make cream puffs.

On April 24, an Ishiya executive decided to repackage some Shiroi Koibito cookies — “limited products” for the company’s 30th anniversary campaign — that were returned from shops and to extend their expiration dates by one month to Aug. 31 and Sept. 30. Although e-mail messages accusing the company of falsifying the expiration date appeared on the company’s home page, the executive did not report them to management.

The company also detected bacteria linked to food poisoning in its ice cream and Baumkuchen cake, but did not report it to the public health center. The center’s inspection found the irregularities Aug. 10 after receiving a tipoff the day before.

Ishiya President Isao Ishimizu later admitted knowing that the company had repeatedly extended expiration dates by one or two months on 20 to 30 percent of its products since 1996. His excuse is that the company started the practice after it began using high-quality wrapping material. This is unethical. Food manufacturers must strictly follow the safety-first principle.

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