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Selling Food Products on Online Stores: An Explanation of the Japanese Food Sanitation Law

General Corporate

Selling Food Products on Online Stores: An Explanation of the Japanese Food Sanitation Law

Online shopping has now become a familiar part of our lives. While anyone can easily set up an online shop, there are various laws involved in operating one. So, what laws are involved when selling food through online shopping? In this article, we will explain the ‘Japanese Food Sanitation Act’.

The laws related to operating an online shop can be divided into ‘laws applicable to all online shops’, such as the ‘Japanese Act on Specified Commercial Transactions’, ‘Japanese Unfair Competition Prevention Act’, ‘Japanese Act against Unjustifiable Premiums and Misleading Representations’, ‘Japanese Electronic Contract Act’, ‘Japanese Act on Regulation of Transmission of Specified Electronic Mail’, and ‘Japanese Act on the Protection of Personal Information’, and ‘laws applicable to specific industries’. In this article, we will focus on explaining the ‘Japanese Food Sanitation Act’, which is one of the ‘laws applicable to specific industries’.

Japanese Food Sanitation Law

The purpose of the Japanese Food Sanitation Law is to ensure the safety of food by implementing necessary regulations and other measures from a public health perspective, thereby preventing the occurrence of health hazards caused by food and drink, and aiming to protect the health of the nation.

Business Permission

Under the provisions of the Japanese Food Sanitation Act, only restaurants and companies that have obtained business permission can operate in the food and beverage industry. The types of businesses that require business permission can be broadly divided into the following categories:

  • Cooking business
  • Manufacturing business
  • Processing business
  • Selling business

Therefore, business permission based on the Japanese Food Sanitation Act is required in cases such as the following:

  • Wanting to sell food made at home
  • Wanting to start a business that manufactures and sells food
  • Wanting to sell purchased food on an online shop
  • Running a cafe and wanting to sell original sweets on an online shop

If you are running a cafe, you should already have a restaurant business permit, but in the case of internet sales, separate business permission based on the Japanese Food Sanitation Act may be required.

Food Sanitation Supervisor

When starting an online shop that sells food, it is generally necessary to obtain a business license based on the ‘Japanese Food Sanitation Act’ and to appoint a ‘Food Sanitation Supervisor’. The requirement to appoint a Food Sanitation Supervisor for each licensed facility is stipulated in the enforcement regulations of the Japanese Food Sanitation Act.

If you are already operating a restaurant in a physical store, you should have obtained the qualifications of a Food Sanitation Supervisor. However, if you are not operating a restaurant in a physical store and are starting to sell food online from scratch, you will need to obtain the qualifications of a Food Sanitation Supervisor.

Food, Additives, Utensils, Containers & Packaging

The purpose of the Japanese Food Sanitation Act is to prevent accidents caused by food contamination, spoilage, and food poisoning. In the context of the Food Sanitation Act, food sanitation refers to the hygiene related to food, additives, utensils, and containers & packaging. This includes not only food but also additives contained in food, utensils used for cooking, and containers & packaging.

Food is defined as all food and drink excluding pharmaceuticals and quasi-drugs (Article 4 of the Food Sanitation Act). This includes not only food and beverages but also, for example, toys that infants may put in their mouths are also subject to regulation.

Additives refer to substances used in the manufacturing process of food or for the purpose of processing or preserving food, by means of addition, mixing, impregnation, or other methods.

The following types of food or additives are deemed unfit and are prohibited (Article 6 of the Food Sanitation Act):

  • Those that are spoiled, deteriorated, or immature
  • Those that contain harmful substances or are suspected of containing them
  • Those that are contaminated with pathogenic microorganisms or are suspected of being contaminated
  • Those that are unclean or unsanitary

Also, the use of animals or poultry that are sick or suspected of being sick for food is also prohibited (Article 10 of the Food Sanitation Act).

Utensils refer to tableware, cutlery, and other items used for the collection, manufacture, processing, cooking, storage, transportation, display, delivery, or intake of food or additives, and machines, utensils, and other items that come into direct contact with food or additives.

Containers & packaging refer to items that contain or wrap food or additives, and are handed over as is when delivering food or additives.

Regulation by the Japanese Food Sanitation Act

The Japanese Food Sanitation Act sets various rules to ensure that safe food reaches consumers. For example, under Article 55 of the Japanese Food Sanitation Act, permission from the prefectural governor or equivalent authority is required to operate a business that handles food, such as a restaurant. This permission is not a one-time acquisition, but must be renewed every few years.

Furthermore, the handling of food that does not meet established standards and criteria, such as manufacturing, processing, use, cooking, and sales, is prohibited unless it is in a manner prescribed by the Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare.

In addition, there are various rules, such as prohibiting the sale of newly developed food until its safety can be confirmed (Article 7 of the Japanese Food Sanitation Act), and prohibiting the sale of meat from animals that were sick (Article 10 of the Japanese Food Sanitation Act). Compliance with these rules ensures food safety.

It should be noted that, since milk and dairy products are consumed widely from infants to the elderly, and the impact can be significant if there are any hygienic issues, the standards are distinguished from other foods. Detailed standards are set by a special ordinance called the “Milk and Milk Products Ordinance” (official name: Ordinance on the Standards for Ingredients of Milk and Milk Products).

Amendment to the Japanese Food Sanitation Act

With the progression of societal changes such as a declining birthrate, an aging population, an increase in dual-income households, and the globalization of food due to an increase in dining out, takeout, and imported food, the number of food poisoning cases and victims has been said to be on a downward trend. Many of these food poisoning cases occur in restaurants and stores that sell bento boxes and catering, but with the expansion of distribution, the environment is becoming more conducive to the spread of food poisoning. To break this trend and reduce food poisoning, a law amending part of the Japanese Food Sanitation Act was enacted in June 2018 (Heisei 30) and came into effect in June 2020 (Reiwa 2). This amendment significantly changes the following seven items.

1.Strengthening measures against large-scale or wide-area food poisoning cases

In response to incidents such as the E. coli O-157 food poisoning outbreak that occurred mainly in the Kanto region in 2017 (Heisei 29), a new “Wide-Area Cooperation Council” was established to prevent the occurrence and spread of large-scale or wide-area food poisoning. The council is designed to enable the national and prefectural governments to work together quickly in the event of such outbreaks.

2.Institutionalization of “sanitation management in accordance with HACCP”

HACCP is a sanitation management system that ensures food safety. It has become an international standard as it is useful for preventing food accidents and quickly identifying the cause when an accident occurs. In Japan, the system had not been fully implemented, especially among small and medium-sized businesses, so it was decided to institutionalize it.

In principle, all food business operators are required to implement sanitation management in accordance with HACCP in addition to general sanitation management. However, small-scale operators with fewer than 50 employees can take a simplified approach by referring to the guidelines published on the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare’s website.

3.Mandatory reporting of “health damage information” caused by specific foods

When health damage suspected to be related to food containing components that require special attention as determined by the Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare occurs, it is now mandatory for businesses to report this information to the administration. The aim is to collect damage information and accurately report the health damage risk that could occur when consumed, to prevent further damage.

4.Introduction of a positive list system for “food utensils and container packaging”

Until now, food utensils and container packaging were operated under a “negative list system,” where they could be used as long as they did not contain restricted substances. However, with this amendment, only substances that have been evaluated for safety can be used, changing to a “positive list system.” This reflects the current trend that in food hygiene, not only food but also containers and packaging used in cooking and sales should be considered.

5.Revision of the “business permit system” and establishment of the “business notification system”

With the institutionalization of sanitation management in accordance with HACCP, businesses that did not previously require a business permit (those that have their own permit system in the municipality) are now required to notify or obtain permission for their business. As a result, prefectures can now grasp what kind of food businesses are in each region, and it has become possible to implement more thorough sanitation management and guidance for businesses.

6.Mandatory reporting of “voluntary recall (recall) information” of food, etc. to the administration

To prevent the spread of health damage caused by food and to increase the transparency of recall information, a system has been created to report recall information to the national government through local governments when a business recalls food it has manufactured or imported. The reported information is listed and published on the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare’s website, allowing consumers to easily check which products are subject to recall.

7.Enhancement of safety certification for “import and export” food

To ensure the safety of imported food, it is now necessary to attach a sanitation certificate based on HACCP for imported meat and a sanitation certificate for dairy and marine products.

Also, for the issuance of sanitation certificates for food exports, it is now mandatory to go through administrative procedures such as the issuance of sanitation certificates by the national and local governments to demonstrate compliance with the sanitation requirements of the importing country.

Summary: Selling Food Products on Online Store under Japanese Food Sanitation Law

Although we were unable to touch on it in this article, the “Japanese Food Labeling Act”, which consolidates the food labeling obligations stipulated in the “Japanese Food Sanitation Act”, the “Japanese Act on Standardization and Proper Quality Labeling of Agricultural and Forestry Products (JAS Act)”, and the “Japanese Health Promotion Act”, has been implemented for food labeling in food sales. Manufacturers, processors, importers, or sellers of food must comply with this law.

Measures by Our Firm

Monolith Law Office is a legal office with high expertise in both IT, particularly the Internet, and law. In recent years, the need for legal checks surrounding online shopping has been increasing. Taking into account various legal regulations, our firm analyzes the legal risks associated with businesses that have already started or are about to start, and aims to legalize them as much as possible without stopping the business. Details are described in the article below.

Managing Attorney: Toki Kawase

The Editor in Chief: Managing Attorney: Toki Kawase

An expert in IT-related legal affairs in Japan who established MONOLITH LAW OFFICE and serves as its managing attorney. Formerly an IT engineer, he has been involved in the management of IT companies. Served as legal counsel to more than 100 companies, ranging from top-tier organizations to seed-stage Startups.

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