Imported Food Safety
Japanese food self-sufficiency rate is about 40% and foods are imported from various countries. MHLW implement various measures to ensure food safety at each stage, from the production in the exporting countries to domestic distribution after import.
Based on the Imported Foods Monitoring and Guidance Plan, MHLW carries out inspection of imported foods at the quarantine stations located at 32 international airpots and seaports, to confirm their compliance with the Food Sanitation Act. When violation of the regulations is detected, measures are taken for the relevant products, including disposal or shipping back of the items to the country of origin.
Import Procedure under Food Sanitation Act
To ensure the safety of imported foods and related products, Article 27 of the Food Sanitation Act obliges importers to submit import notification. As Article 27 of the Food Sanitation Act states that “Those who wish to import food, food additives, apparatuses, or container/packages for sale or for use in business, shall notify the Minister of Health, Labour, and Welfare on each occasion as prescribed by the Ministerial Ordinance,” the imported foods and related products must not be used for sale without import notification.
Notification Form for Importation of Foods, etc.” is submitted to a Quarantine Station of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. At the quarantine station, food sanitation inspectors carry out document examination and inspection to see the foods and products comply with the Food Sanitation Act.
Postal cargoes from abroad that are subject to the Food Sanitation Act
When food and related products are imported from abroad to Japan through postal services for the purpose of sales or for use in business, an import notification must be submitted according to the Food Sanitation Act.
The “food and related products” here include foods, additives, apparatuses, containers/packages and toys for infants.
This procedure is necessary under Article 27 of the Food Sanitation Act, which states that “Those who wish to import food, food additives, apparatuses, or container/packages for sale or for use in business, shall notify the Minister of Health, Labour, and Welfare on each occasion as prescribed by the Ministerial Ordinance,” and the method and amount of import does not affect the application.
When a postal cargo arrives at a Japanese port, a “Notice of Customs Clearance on Foreign Posted Items (i.e., Arrival Notification)” is sent to the addressee from a custom office, and the customs clearance is conducted. If the imported items are for sale or for use in business, an import notification must be submitted to the quarantine station of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare that is responsible for the port where the posted cargo is temporarily stored.
(→ Procedures of Import Notification of Foods and Related Products)
Items that are imported not for the above purposes, such as personal uses, are exempted from import notification.
The import notification must be submitted before the end of custom clearance procedures. If the cargo was imported without import notification, the cargo will not be able to use for sale or for business purposes.
Any inquiries and questions about the handling of foreign postal cargoes that are subject for the Food Sanitation Act can be addressed to a quarantine station. Please contact the quarantine station of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare that is responsible for the port where the posted cargo is stored, or any station nearest to you.
(→ Quarantine Stations of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare)
Import Notification Procedures
1. Prepare a “Notification Form for Importation of Foods, etc” in order to notify the import. (PDF:180KB)
2. Fill out the Notification Form for Importation of Foods, etc., providing all the required information. (Please note that the import of some food items, such as meat, meat products and swellfish (puffer fish), requires a “sanitary (health) certificate” issued by the governmental organization of the exporting country.
3. Submit the completed Notification Form to the quarantine station responsible for the port of import. In addition to the import notification by submitting the paper form, submission through electronic information processing system is also available. To submit the notification through the electronic system, importers are required to register their computer terminal along with the necessary information to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare beforehand.
Document Examination of the Notification Form for Importation of Foods, etc. and Inspection at the MHLW Quarantine Station
1. After the submission of notification, the food sanitation inspector at the quarantine station inspects the product to examine whether the item meets the regulations under the Food Sanitation Act.
During the document examination, the food sanitation inspector validates the following items, based on the information reported in the Notification Form. The judgement will be made based on the information, such as the country of export, imported items, manufacturer, the place of manufacture, ingredients and materials, methods of manufacturing and use of additives.
– Whether the imported food, etc. complies with the manufacturing standards regulated under the Food Sanitation Act.
– Whether the use of additives complies with the standards.
– Whether poisonous or hazardous substance is contained.
– Whether the manufacturer or the place of manufacturing has a record of sanitation problem in the past.
(→ JETRO’s Home Page on Information of Food and Additive Regulations and Standards: https://www.jetro.go.jp/en/reports/regulations/)
2. When the cargo is judged to be subject to inspection by the document examination (cargoes with many records of incompliance with the act in the past, imported swellfish, etc.), an inspection order (inspection order system), a public inspection (other inspection systems) and other inspections (→ Inspections) will be carried out in order to confirm the compliance of the cargo with the act by the inspection.
3. When the document examination and cargo inspection have found that the cargo is in compliance with the act (the cargo “passed” the inspection), a “Certificate of Notification” will be returned to the importer from the MHLW quarantine station where the notification was first submitted. The import procedures, then, will proceed to the next step.
4. The cargo that has been judged not to comply with the act (the cargo that “did not pass” the inspection) cannot be imported into Japan. The MHLW quarantine station will notify the importer how the cargo violates the Food Sanitation Act, and the importer will take necessary measures by following the instructions from the station.
5. In order to simplify and expedite the import procedures, simplified systems of import notification are also available. (→ Simplified and Expedited Systems of Import Procedures)
MHLW quarantine stations offer import consultations to provide further information on import procedures and other matters. Please make inquiries at each station in the region. (→ MHLW Quarantine Stations)
Office of Quarantine Station Administration
Policy Planning Division for Environmental Health and Food Safety
Pharmaceutical Safety and Environmental Health Bureau