Stocks of emergency food that many people likely prepared after the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake are probably now at or near their best-by dates. The Mainichi Shimbun approached industry experts for tips about how to avoid having emergency food and water go to waste.
One method is buying products with a long shelf life. Tokyo-based Sei Enterprise, Inc. imports products branded "Survival Foods," which have a best-by date of 25 years from manufacture, far longer than the three to five that are typical of other emergency foods. Using a special production process invented by U.S. company Oregon Freeze Dry, LLC, 98 percent of the water is removed from the products, which are then canned together with oxygen absorbers. The foods come in seven varieties: chicken risotto, shrimp risotto, vegetable stew, chicken stew, pasta primavera, macaroni and cheese, and pilot bread crackers. Other than the crackers, they are all prepared by adding hot or cold water, but they can also be eaten as they are, without adding water. In the U.S., they have been used as army rations and as space food for NASA astronauts. Tests have shown their quality and taste to remain fine after 30 years in storage.
Survival Foods products are expensive, with even the cheapest option, the crackers, costing 4,000 yen plus tax for 10 meals' worth. However, they are bought by government offices, by companies, by hospitals, and recently, increasingly by individual consumers, says Sei Enterprise, which has been importing and selling such emergency foods since 1978.
Sei Enterprise's president Masaya Hirai says, "People have grown more suspicious of the government's disaster-response abilities after the Great East Japan Earthquake, and they want to take safety into their own hands. Our products actually come out cheaper because customers don't have to check best-by dates and product quality, meaning that they don't have to buy replacements."
With around five years and eight months having passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake, more typical emergency foods are passing their expiration dates. Ryosuke Suzuki, 46, of Tokyo's Nakano Ward in July this year threw out emergency food and drinking water supplies for his family of four.
"By the time I noticed, they were over three months past their best-by date. I wanted to reduce the risk of anyone getting sick during a disaster (by ingesting old products)," he said. It became a waste of, per person, 18 meals' worth of rice and other foods and 6 liters of water, but he bought the same sets again as replacements.
Minoru Saito, head director of the Disaster Prevention Safety Association, says best-by dates are normally set with wiggle room. "Even if you eat or drink emergency products a half-year after their expiration date, there shouldn't be a problem. Even if the best-by date is approaching, at the household level it isn't necessary to hurry to buy new stocks," he says. He recommends setting one day a month as a day to eat emergency foods. This will both help prevent supplies passing their expiration dates and also increase disaster preparation awareness.
In the case of municipal governments and companies, old emergency foods are disposed of as industrial waste. According to Saito, the disposal fees are about 35 yen per liter of water and 60 to 70 yen per kilogram of food. This year, Saito's association started a service to accept emergency foods near their best-by dates and donate them to disaster-hit areas, poor families and welfare facilities by supplying them to the Japanese Red Cross Society or food banks.
Meanwhile, services that keep track of emergency food products' expiration dates have also turned up. Since January last year, Tokyo-based emergency supplies seller Bosai Bichiku Center, has been offering services such as providing alerts that inform customers when supplies are near their best-by dates, along with suggestions for replacement products to buy, and advice on how to reuse or dispose of products that are approaching their expiration dates.
The center's director Ichiro Nozaki says, "When there are personnel changes at companies or apartment management bodies, and communication (regarding emergency supply management) is insufficient or supplies are stored in multiple locations, the management of those supplies tends to become slipshod." He adds, "In the near future we want to start services for individual customers, too."
With people who work with food banks being overloaded with emergency foods past their best-by dates, now is a good time for people to begin making effective and proper use of their emergency food stocks.