Japanese restaurants feel effect on supplies

Japanese restaurants and supermarkets in the UAE said they are starting to feel the effects of a ban on imports from Japan.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES Ð Mar 22,2011: One of the customer buying food items from the Deans Fujiya Supermarket in Bur Dubai.  (Pawan Singh / The National) For News. Story by Caline
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DUBAI // Owners and managers of Japanese food outlets in the UAE are starting to feel the effects of strict controls on imports from Japan.

The Government is testing all food products that enter the UAE from the country following radiation leaks at the Fukushima nuclear plant caused by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

The move means fresh fish, vegetables and ingredients needed for sushi and tempura could be hard to come by during the next few weeks.

"We fly in food three times a week from Japan," said Markus Thesleff, the co-founder of OKKU Dubai. "At least 80 per cent of our products come from Japan. We are already seeing an impact on fresh fish and vegetables. The dry and frozen products are already on the way.

"Things could get quite difficult to get in the next three to five weeks and we are really concerned."

Mr Thesleff said many of the ingredients used to make tempura at his restaurant were regularly imported from Japan. "We are in talks with our suppliers to source these food supplies from other countries, especially Taiwan and [South] Korea," he said.

The administration manager of Kisaku at the Al Khaleej Palace Hotel in Dubai said: "Our suppliers said the UAE was questioning the safety of their products and require them to undergo checks as proof of safety."

The woman, who did not want to be identified, said some suppliers' containers were held in Japan, while others were being stopped at UAE ports. She said her restaurant was not receiving any food at the moment.

Rachelle Antonio, the manager at Sumo Sushi & Bento, said she was in touch with Japanese food suppliers regularly about the situation.

"We are really concerned that it could impact the nori sheets used to wrap sushi and tempura that we import from Japan," she said. "If we run out of stocks we will be badly affected as these are fast-moving items and favourites of our customers."

Sreenivas Panikkan, the managing director of Dean's Fujiya Japanese Supermarket in Dubai, said his suppliers had stopped exporting milk because "it may have been contaminated. They refuse to export any goods until they are sure about their safety".

The supermarket has a three-month stock of imported food, but he said after that "we will have to source our products from other countries like Vietnam, the United States, China and Taiwan".

Mr Panikkan said his customers were not worried about contamination. "They know if there are any problems, the Japanese government will not allow [any exports]," he said.

Mohan Neueane, the manager of the Japanese supermarket Daiso in Mirdif, said his store was using last month's stock of imported food, including green tea, peanuts and rice crackers, which will expire in two months.

"We are receiving less food from Japan and our supplier says it's because of the radiation," he said, adding that he had no idea of the next shipment date. But he added: "It's not a problem for us because the company's base is in Tokyo."

A few restaurant chefs said they would not be affected by any shortage in imports. The chef at Wasabi, a Japanese restaurant in Al Diar Mina Hotel in Abu Dhabi, said he had a few suppliers in Japan but that all the items shipped from the country were sealed and frozen.

"None of the food they send us is fresh; even the fish is frozen and most of our goods come from Singapore and Thailand anyway," he said.

The Ministry of Water and Environment yesterday said that authorities were testing any food products entering the UAE from Japan for radiation. Dr Mariam Hassan Al Shenasi, the under secretary at the ministry, said there was a "strict control" in place at the country's borders.

Engineers worked to restart the cooling systems at the Fukushima nuclear plant yesterday after a new smoke scare, as the detection of radioactivity in the sea fuelled further anxiety over food safety.

An external electricity supply has been restored to all six reactors, 11 days after the tsunami crippled the facility, but more work is needed before the power can be restored.

Authorities have halted shipments of some foodstuffs in four nearby prefectures after the discovery of higher than normal levels of radiation in produce such as milk and vegetables. The government also ordered increased inspections of seafood after radioactive elements were detected in the Pacific Ocean near the plant.

* The National, with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse