- The Washington Times
Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sushi lovers can keep their chopsticks handy.

Local restaurants and national food companies are feeling little effect from the ongoing crisis in Japan, and the Food and Drug Administration is assuring Americans that food imported from the Pacific Ocean is safe, though increased safety inspections have been put in place.

Those inspections occasionally delay fish shipments to restaurants such as Sushi Taro in Northwest Washington.

“It’s taking longer for stuff to go through the airport, but, so far, that’s about it,” hostess Kiyomi Ward said Tuesday. Over the past several weeks, it has taken a few extra hours for the high-end restaurant’s Japanese food shipments to arrive.

Also blunting the impact is the fact that many Japanese restaurants serve food originating in the U.S.

Countries across the globe have ramped up inspections of Japanese food as concerns persist about radioactivity leaking from reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex.

Russia is considering banning any seafood imported from the area around Fukushima, while India has already gone further than that, imposing a three-month ban on all food from Japan, according to Reuters. Other nations, such as the U.S., France, Germany and the Netherlands, are conducting closer inspections before allowing food to cross their borders.

An April 2 radiation safety report on the FDA’s website states that, “based on current information, there is no risk to the U.S. food supply. … FDA does not have concerns with the safety of imported food products that have already reached the U.S.” The agency did say it will continue to monitor the situation and will restrict imports if necessary.

The U.S. gets about 4 percent of its imported food from Japan. About 60 percent of all Japanese imports are food products, mostly seafood, snack foods and processed fruits and vegetables, according to the FDA.

While local restaurants report little impact on fish prices or business, fish prices in Japan have dropped amid consumer fears of radioactivity from the Fukushima plant. Fishermen in neighboring areas saw prices for flounder and sea bream tumble by 65 percent, according to Reuters.

Much of the fish now being served in American restaurants was likely caught and shipped before the earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit Japan last month, said Patrick Lawler, vice president and national sales director for Japan Gold, the U.S. branch of Muso Co. Limited, an international food company based in Osaka.

“So far, we haven’t heard of any problems. The FDA has really stepped up its efforts” to check for any contamination, Mr. Lawler said Tuesday.

Prices at sushi restaurants have not risen because such complements as rice and sauces are typically produced domestically, said Mark Denman, vice president of sales at RiceSelect, based in Texas.

Sushi rice “is 98 percent produced in California. Even your high-end Japanese restaurants get their rice from California,” Mr. Denman told The Washington Times on Tuesday.

Maruko Japanese Restaurant in Arlington hasn’t been affected because it uses rice and other products made in America and serves fish caught off American shores, according to manager Oanh Bui.

Seafood caught off the West Coast of the U.S. is safe, according to the FDA.

The FDA also believes that “the great quantity of water in the Pacific Ocean rapidly and effectively dilutes radioactive material, so fish and seafood are likely to be unaffected” in areas far from the damaged Fukushima reactors.

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