More than 30 food companies, wholesalers and convenient store chains started a test this month with the support of the farm ministry and other government bodies to reduce “food loss.”

Hopefully the test will help lay a foundation for nationwide efforts to reduce the amount of edible food discarded by food companies, retailers and households.

According to the farm ministry, more than 18 million tons of food was discarded in fiscal 2010, of which 5 million to 8 million tons are believed to have still been edible. Throwing away a large amount of food is unethical and should be stopped. It is said that one of every eight people in poor countries is undernourished.

Companies’ “one-third rule” is believed to be responsible for this waste: The period starting from the production date of food products to the “sell by” date (the period in which the food tastes best) is divided into three shorter periods of equal length. Food makers or wholesalers are to deliver products to retailers during the first period, retailers are to sell them during the second period and consumers are to eat them during the last period.

If the first period ends for particular food products, food companies or wholesalers cannot deliver them to retailers. They usually have a certain amount of stock to cope with orders from retailers, but when the first period is over, they have no other choice than to discard the stock.

When the end of the second period comes, retailers stop selling food products. They either return them to the food companies or wholesalers (which discard them), sell them at bargain prices or just throw them away.

Food makers or wholesalers in the United States can deliver products to retailers if it is within the first half of the sell-by date period; in France if it is within two-thirds of the sell-by date period, and in Britain if it is within three-quarters of the sell-by date period.

The test by Japanese companies is for the U.S. rule. For this test to be successful, retailers will have to continue to place food products on shop selves almost until the sell-by date, and consumers will have to be ready to purchase them even though the sell-by date may come within several days.

Thus consumers need to change their habits and way of thinking about food products. It is important to realize that the sell-by date (shomi kigen) is not the same as the consumption-expiration date (shohi kigen). It does not automatically mean that products that passed sell-by date cannot be eaten.

Households are responsible for about half of the nation’s food loss. Given that Japan depends on imports for about 60 percent of its food, this is an incredibly wasteful habit, and one that could be dangerous in times of crisis. Consumers should develop the habit of buying smaller amounts of food and eating what they have in their refrigerator before buying more.

Companies participating in the test will issue an interim report in November. A final report will come in March 2014 after the test ends in February. It is hoped that the test will trigger a nationwide effort to reduce food loss.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.