Shizuoka Tea Radiation Free

Results of extensive tests for radioactivity in food products including brewed tea show "not detectable" levels in Shizuoka Prefecture and greatly diminished levels in the region nearest Fukushima, the site of the reactor meltdown that followed Japan's March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Click here for a complete report from the Shizuoka Prefectoral Goverment which concludes "that first and second flush teas produced in Shizuoka Prefecture are safe for our distributors and consumers."

The four-page report analyzes 52 samples taken between March and July 2012 in every district within the prefecture. Combined levels of radioactive Cesium 134 and Cesium 137 in most samples were less than 1.5 Bq/Kg. The highest readings were 2.0 Bq/kg which is well below Japan's 10 Bq/kg threshold.

Tea leaves were brewed submersed in a ratio of 1 to 30 parts water at a temperature of 90 Celsius for 60 seconds and filtered with a 40 gauge mesh sieve. Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare set a threshold of radioactivity of 10 Bq/kg last year after discovering very high levels of Cesium in raw tea leaves and in tea processing factories. Readings in the latest tests are all below 2.0 Bq/kg. The Prefecture reported "all the results were below the detection limit."

Tatsuo Tomeoka, owner of Charaku Fine Japanese Tea in Seattle shared the results with World Tea News and his customers: "We’re happy to bring back two of our popular teas from Shizuoka, Chashi Meijin Fukamushi Sencha from Kakegawa and Genmaicha from Kawane. Although we did not purchase any tea from Shizuoka in 2011, the reports from 2012’s harvest were a great relief. Radiation levels in brewed tea from all regions of the prefecture came in as “Not Detectable.”  

Den Shirakata, who owns Den's Tea in Torrance, Calif., said he is relieved to see favorable test results.

"However since some consumers still don't believe in the government's annoucement, we still need to continue to test all the teas we import. Some consumers are not updated by the latest information and they still believe that Shizuoka tea has a radiation problem," he said.

"We have received fewer questions about the radiation from consumers this year," he said, but like many Japanese tea specialists, he experienced strong sales last year and "fortunately, we now carry greater amounts of tea than before March 11."

The declared value of tea imports from Japan in 2011 actually increased to $34 million following the disaster compared to 2010, according to data compiled by the Foreign Agricultural Service, Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau, Foreign Trade Statistics.

The U.S. imported 771,965 kilos of Japan tea during the first six months of 2011 with a declared value of $15.8 million. Import volume is less through June of this year at 566,634 kgs.

See: Japan Tea Imports Increased in 2011

Retailers remain cautious, conducting private tests and insisting on documentation throughout the supply chain. In Japan, many growers have jointly financed testing operations, submitting raw leaf and finished tea.

"Due to the radiation findings last year in regions such as Okabe and Ashikubo, we did decide to wait yet another year to purchase tea from these areas. So unfortunately, we will be not stock our Ashikubo Gold Sencha, Asahina Kabusecha, or Asahina Karigane for the 2012-2013 season, as well as our Sayama-cha from Saitama Prefecture," Tomeoka said.

The volume and declared value of Japanese tea such as matcha and bottled teas have increased steadily the past five years from $21 million in 2007 to $34 million last year. Retail sales remain strong. Retailers last spring rushed to buy up stocks of tea processed prior to the disaster. Supplies then virtually dried up as the Japanese government discovered contaminated tea leaves hundreds of kilometers from the striken reactors.

Shizuoka Prefecture, which produces 36 percent of Japan's tea and processes much more through its port at Yokohama, was largely spared. The safety of teas grown further south near Kyoto, Kagashima and the southern-most islands was never questioned.

Click here to download a 25-page report on radiation in all Japan's foods, marine life and wild game.

Dan Bolton

About Dan Bolton

Dan Bolton edits STiR Tea & Coffee Industry International. He was formerly editor and publisher of World Tea News and former editor and publisher of Tea Magazine and former editor-in-chief of Specialty Coffee Retailer. He is a beverage retail consultant and frequent speaker at industry seminars and conferences. His work has appeared in many beverage publications. He was a newspaper reporter and editor for 20 years prior to his career in magazines. Dan is the founding editor of Natural Food magazine and has led six publishing ventures since 1995. He lives in Winnipeg, Canada.