Monday 29 March 2010

Legal standards for functional ceramics in Japan

You may remember by blog entry "Safety First" , concerning the food safety standards for functional pottery in Japan. I have been asked by some of you for more information about this, so I have read the notification in the original Japanese and the following is my brief interpretation of it in so far as it applies to functional ceramics. The law applies to Glass, Ceramics, Enamel and other food vessels and packaging, so I won't deal with the full scope of the law. I am, after all, Euan the Potter.

According to notification #416 of the Japanese Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labour, as of the 1st of August 2009, it is required for all manufacturers and importers of ceramics for food to conform to the standards set by the International Standards Organisation for levels of heavy metals, specifically Lead and Cadmium.

These safety levels are based on the amount of Lead and Cadmium which can leech into a liquid from the vessel under set test conditions. These levels and conditions are set out in the second table on THIS LINK.

The levels differ slightly for vessels which are used to heat food and those which are not. However, Sake bottles (tokuri), Chawan Mushi Chawan (vessels for savoury steamed custard) and other vessels which can be used to heat or reheat food by any method not exceeding 100 degrees centigrade, where heating food is not the main function of the vessel, will be treated the same as vessels which are not for heating food.

The notification does not state the method by which these standards will be enforced, but department stores in particular are asking for certification of safety in Japanese before vessels can be sold. This is probably in line with the Public Liability Laws which were introduced a few years ago making the manufacturer and retailer responsible for injury to customers due to faulty or dangerous products. I believe that it is required by customs for imported ware, and as I was required to provide this for Mitsukoshi, and my pots are made in Japan, it seems to be required for domestic sales as well. I have only been asked by department stores, however, so I am unsure of the extent to which certification is required.

It only applies to vessels for food. In particular it is important with low fired lead glazes and on glaze enamels, but it applies to all food vessels. Within Japan testing can be done in a variety of places, but I recommend the Tajimi Ceramic Institute. Their home page outlines their testing methods and costs. One representative sample of work should be sent for testing, and they return it. I do not know whether they accept work for testing from overseas.

So, there you have it. If you are making vessels for food, Japanese law requires that they be food safe according to ISO standards. That sounds fair to me.

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