FAO/WHO consolidated input
Nuclear Emergency in Japan and Food Safety Concerns
Frequently asked questions

Revised 8 April 2011

The following questions and answers produced by the FAO and WHO address some of the  international concerns over the safety of food produced in Japan.

Are there rules for radioactivity in foods for international trade?  

  • There are internationally agreed Codex Guideline Levels (GLs) for radionuclide levels in internationally traded food following a nuclear or radiological emergency. These GLs are published by the Joint FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission.
  • The GLs state that, “as far as generic radiological protection of food consumers is concerned, when radionuclide levels in food do not exceed the corresponding Guideline Levels, the food should be considered as safe for human consumption. When the Guideline Levels are exceeded, national governments shall decide whether and under what circumstances the food should be distributed within their territory or jurisdiction. National governments may wish to adopt different values for internal use within their own territories where the assumptions concerning food distribution that have been made to derive the Guideline Levels may not apply, e.g., in the case of wide-spread radioactive contamination. For foods that are consumed in small quantities, such as spices, that represent a small percentage of total diet and hence a small addition to the total dose, the Guideline Levels may be increased by a factor of 10”. 

What actions are being taken to monitor the safety of food from Japan? 

  • In response to the nuclear accident in Japan, Japanese authorities have instituted monitoring of food products and have restricted the consumption and distribution of some products in certain prefectures or areas found to contain radionuclides exceeding Japan's provisional regulation value. 

    Findings from food monitoring in Japan and decisions related to the consumption and distribution of food products are published and updated regularly on the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare website. Japan Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare 
  • Many countries have implemented food control measures to mirror actions taken within Japan. Some countries have indicated that they will now require documentation verifying the safety of products and /or the prefecture of origin of the food.  Other countries have suspended food imports from Japan. In addition, many countries have increased monitoring on foods imported from Japan.
  • While conservative measures to protect consumers’ health in importing countries are understandable, it should be recalled that they must comply with Codex principles regarding their scientific justification. 

Can food produced in other countries be affected by the events in Japan? 

  • Radioactive material has been released into the environment from damaged Japanese nuclear power plants. Radiation levels measured to date in other countries are far below the level of background radiation that most people are exposed to in every day circumstances and do not present health or transportation safety hazards, according to the United Nations organizations closely monitoring the situation.
  • Minute amounts of radioactive caesium and iodine might be found using very sensitive detection methods but this should not affect foods produced in other countries as the amounts involved will be well below acceptable levels and would not pose a health concern to those who eat the food.


last updated:  Wednesday, June 15, 2011