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Emergency food supplies make way to regular dinner table as part of 'rolling stock'

People buying canned foods en masse stand out at the nonperishable food market where 10 companies and groups sold products at Living Design Center Ozone in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward on Sept. 15, 2017. (Mainichi)

Canned and other nonperishable foods purchased as emergency rations are making their way onto the daily menu as the idea of a "rolling stock" for disaster supplies spreads. With many of the emergency products bought following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake disaster nearing their expiration dates, the demand for recipes to prepare these foods for the dinner table is rising.

    An event held last month in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward aimed at familiarizing attendees with nonperishable foods gathered preserved and hometown delicacies from all over Japan for a special market. Along with canned and vacuum-packed products, new products like fried rice cakes wrapped in seaweed that could be made edible by just adding water, dried and fried mackerel with a yearlong shelf life and curry that contains none of the 27 designated allergens were also on display. Participants in the event passionately asked experts about how to prepare canned products and other questions.

    "Foods which are dried or pickled are part of traditional Japanese food culture, and can also be prepared for use in emergencies," said Satoko Kimura of event organizer Living Design Center Ozone. "I wanted to share that preserved foods can be used 'always' and 'in case of emergency.'"

    Disaster Prevention Safety Association executive director Hiroshi Kitamura suggests that emergency food stuffs should have a shelf life of at least three years. However, in the average household, the idea of buying vacuum-packed and canned foods from the grocery store and rotating the items by eating and replacing them with new ones roughly every year is starting to become more common.

    The "Izameshi Carry Box" containing vacuum-packed meals is shown with the attached paper plate and spoon and the box being used as a makeshift table. (Photo courtesy of Sugita Ace Co.)

    "Instead of buying foods particularly in the name of emergency supplies, 'eating while preparing' regular, familiar foods with expiration dates within a year is one method (of stocking disaster supplies)," he says.

    On the other hand, in the case of large institutions like municipal governments, companies and schools that require a large amount of emergency rations, because of the time and budget needed to regularly replace the stock, in most cases nonperishable items good for a period of roughly five years are stocked. "With advances in vacuum-packing technology, there are now products on the market with a shelf life of six or even seven years," explained Kimura. "The emergency food supplies bought by many companies and groups after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster are nearing their expiration dates, so the demand for buying new items to replace them is high."

    Nonperishable foods for disaster situations have themselves been changing with the times. While hardtack used to be the staple of emergency supplies, biscuits, instant rice prepared with boiling water, vacuum-packed rice and other snacks not requiring water have become the main trend in long-lasting supplies. There is a rich variety of products including Japanese, Western, Chinese food -- even desserts -- so that foods can be eaten over long periods without people getting bored. Apart from shelf life, things like convenience and package design are also advancing year by year.

    Beginning earlier this month, the "Hozonhozon Bosai Series" of vacuum-packed meals with a shelf life of five years that don't require water, preparation or even a plate went on sale. A spoon is attached to the bottom of each package, which can be opened by hand and eaten directly out of the container. The series comes in 40 flavors, including dishes for children. Each pack costs between 152 to 648 yen.

    The convenient "Hozonhozon Bosai Series" of nonperishable meals (Mainichi)

    "In order to get rid of the dull image of emergency rations, we moved toward using colorful and cute illustrations on the packages," explained Takayuki Nagamoto, head of the merchandizing department at Yokohama Okadaya Co., which produced the Hozonhozon series. The packages were designed by art director Taku Yoshimizu. "The packs are created in the hope that even during tough times, people will have an appetite and be able to become bright and full of energy," Nagamoto said.

    The "Izameshi Carry Box," featuring eight varieties of vacuum-packed meals like salted fried chicken with roasted green onions complete with a plate and spoon contained in a convenient box, has been on sale since last December. A string attached to the box allows for easy carry, and the box itself can be used as a makeshift table. Each carry box sells for 5,400 yen.

    "The product can be used as a regular 'meal' when you don't have time to cook, feel so sick that you can't go to the store or other times of 'emergency,'" explained Ayano Kimura of seller Sugita Ace Co. "They are even good for picnics."

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