Saturday, August 10, 2013

Taking the hygiene manager test - requirement for food businesses in Japan

Woo! I'm now the proud owner of this little passport-like booklet proving that I'm now a designated food hygiene manager / 食品衛生責任者 / shokuhin eisei sekininsha. Have a look at this previous post for information on how and where to apply, today's post will be about what was involved in the day itself, and the little test they give you at the end.

The seminars are held a few times a month in locations all over Tokyo, take about 7 hours including a break for lunch, and seat just under 200 people each time. There is a 10,000 JPY fee which you pay in cash on the day, plus 700 yen if you want to buy an official name plate for your premises. You're seated in the order you arrive.

In your welcome pack is a notebook for the day's proceedings and a phone book-sized tome that includes a hundred or so pages of explanation that you'll be taken through during the day and another 100 or so pages of food hygiene-related articles from Japanese law.

Also in there were a handful of leaflets with details of various government-affiliated health, liability and employers' insurance especially for food businesses, some of which are cheaper than commercial options, and many of which had cute drawings and lots of big colourful fonts.

Speaking of cute drawings, check these out! The salient points of the fairly dry lectures were frequently illuminated with characters of germs looking afraid and hygiene managers looking stern and powerful. These ones show the legal requirements for the set-up of the staff hand-washing facilities, and the 3 ways to avoid causing food poisoning from unwanted microbial activity (don't introduce them, don't let them grow, kill them off!).

The first talk was about food hygiene law, and involved lots of kanji being written on a whiteboard, and lots of instruction of when to "赤ライン! / underline in red!" in our books. Handy kanji to know for this section include:
  • 法規 / houki - law
  • 法律 / houritsu - law
  • 憲法 / kenpou - the constitution
  • 業種 / gyoushu - type of industry
  • 許可 / kyoka - permission
  • 厚生労働大臣 / kousei roudou daijin - Minister for Health and Welfare
  • 表示基準 / hyouji kijun - labelling criteria
  • 総合衛生管理製造過程 / sougou eisei kanri seizou katei - HACCP
  • 添加物 / tenkabutsu - additives
  • 禁止 / kinshi - prohibited
  • 条例 / jyourei - regulation
  • 保護 / hogo - protect
  • 公衆 / koushu - public
  • 方針 / houshin - policy
  • 責務 / sekimu - obligation

There are 34 types of food business permitted under Japanese law - including those serving food and drink, those creating and selling confectionary, sales of fish products, sales of dairy-based products etc. - all of which require a designated food hygiene manager  / 食品衛生責任者 / shokuhin eisei sekininsha as well as a business permit / 営業許可 / eigyou kyoka. 7 of these types of business - such as businesses processing meat, fish or dairy products etc. - require a fully qualified hygiene supervisor / 食品衛生管理者 / shokuhin eisei kanrisha, which is a specific career choice, entailing a multi-year course of study rather than an informal 1-day seminar.

The second talk was about public health, and included some really interesting information on  Japanese demographics, illness and society. Have a look at the following tables, the far left column is the years running from 5th year of Showa (1930) until the 23rd year of Heisei (2011), see here for conversions.
The first table paints the familiar picture of a severely aging Japanese society.

Japanese population by age-band

Overall population (column 2, above) has slowed to stay around 127.8 million during the last 13 years. Recently 2 out of 10 people are over 65, set to increase as only 1 out of 10 people is currently under 14. In 1930 almost 4 out of every 10 people were under 14.

This second graph shows the main reason why the population is aging, and why it is projected to shrink to 95.2 million by 2050 - the birth rate in Japan (2nd column) has fallen from 32.4 per 1,000 people to 8.3 in 2011. This chart also shows in the 4th and 5th columns the marriage and divorce rates, which are decreasing and trending upwards respectively.

Birth, death, marriage and divorce rates in Japan

These charts show the main causes of death in Japan (left) and the main causes of food poisoning (right). After high incidences of tuberculosis in the early 1950s, up until the 1980s deaths from cerebrovascular causes such as stroke were the highest, since which point cancer (red line) and heart disease takes over. The food poisoning graph shows that reported cases (this graph is not about deaths) of Norovirus are by far the most common in Japan but that incidences of campylobacter and salmonella do also occur.

Including a short video, the afternoon was about hygiene and food-borne illnesses, and was hard to focus on attentively in the hot room, after lunch (maybe 20% of the attendees were sleeping at this point). There was some important stuff in here though, such as why and how to properly wash your hands - on a slightly related note I wish Tokyo would start providing soap in the public and train station loos!

The shokunineisei sekininsha test

Finally the test. As you can see in the image above, this was a 5-question multiple choice quiz that we were given 5 minutes to answer by writing the appropriate number on slips of paper. These were collected and quickly scored, but my impression is that you get the certificate from just having attended the seminar. No-one got zero points on the day I attended, in fact 70% got 5/5 questions correct. Including me, big swot I am ;).

Most of the mistakes made were with Q3

There is a lot of interesting and important stuff related to you during the day, but there is also a lot of very dry and lengthy reading aloud of laws and responsibilities. You'll be most comfortable if you can read a fair amount of kanji and follow most of what goes on, but much of the day reinforced my feeling that this training seminar is more to do with the Health Centers doing their part (we gave them a copy of their legal requirements so..) and making sure you know that you are responsible if something should go wrong, rather than ensuring that people who attend are fully aware of how to avoid something going wrong.

This probably shouldn't be the sole resource to inform the hygiene policy at your business. A good additional resource would be an online food hygiene course from your home country. Any certifications wouldn't be valid in Japan of course and some of the information will differ (for example regarding egg safety, the emphasis in the Japanese seminar was that only fresh eggs should be eaten raw, whereas in the UK the Department of Health recommends that raw egg recipes be avoided completely), but you'll learn more from extended self-study to protect your customers and livelihood than from a 1-day seminar.

Once you have the hygiene manager certificate it's yours for life without attending this particular seminar again. Once you've registered your business you will receive information from the Health Centre periodically about additional seminars on varied topics that your hygiene manager must attend during the life of your business. If you are an employee then your certificate goes with you to the various companies you work with during your food industry career anywhere in Japan.

So gosh, yes, I am now officially moving closer and closer to be able to legally run my own food biz in Tokyo. Quite scary/exciting!


  1. I'd love to do a course like this, but my Japanese is really crap.

    I also wish I could find soap in public toilets/washrooms. The ONLY place I've ever seen it is at my daughter's school.
    Best of luck with the shop!

  2. Thank you J.P! it's a mystery why there is little soap to be found in public bathrooms ne.. Rest assured we'll have plenty of soap at our shop :)