Japanese Allergen System part 2

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In Part 1 of this series, we explained how to identify the list of ingredients on packaging and how to use Google Translate to change it to your native language.

Here in Part 2, we’ll explain Japanese allergen labeling procedures and how to find them on packaging.

The Allergens and how to find them

Luckily the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF) has created regulations for listing certain allergens on packaged food. Unfortunately this doesn’t specifically include gluten, but it still makes life a bit easier knowing which products contain wheat.

According to the regulations, there are 7 top allergens that are mandatory to be labeled on packaging. They are: Wheat, Shrimp, Egg, Buckwheat, Milk, Peanut, and Crab.

こむぎ、コムギ、 小麦粉、こむぎ胚芽NOT
Rye ライ麦
Malt 麦芽
Barley 大麦
Oats オーツ麦
Buckwheatそばソバ 、 そばがき、そば粉 

As you can see, wheat is mandatory to list BUT NOT rye, malt, barley, or oats.

So even though we can identify common allergens, that doesn’t mean we can identify gluten.

What to look out for

A package of allergen friendly stew roux
An allergen-free package of cream stew roux. You can see all 27 allergens listed on the packaging.

Along with the 7 mandatory allergens, there are 20 “suggested” allergens that companies may also list on packaging. Together that makes 27 allergens that are often referred to on packaging in a group.

There are THREE ways that companies may identify allergens on packaging.

Noticing the difference may help save some extra time at the supermarket so you can gfto and enjoy, well, not being at the supermarket.

1. Single Ingredient

Companies may list allergens after each ingredient.

For example, on this package of chicken bullion, it clearly lists (soy, pork, dairy, and wheat) after the ingredient “chicken extract.”

Consomme Package with Wheat/Gluten
A package of chicken bullion that contains wheat/gluten.
How to read single ingredient allergen listings
This ingredient list shows allergens after each individual ingredient.

2. All Ingredients

Possibly the most common way companies list allergens is at the end of a list of ingredients.

Many packages will add all the allergens at the end, similar to the US when it says “contains soy, wheat” at the bottom. In this example, after all the ingredients are listed it says (includes soy).

Gluten-Free Natto Pasta Sauce
A package of gluten-free natto pasta sauce.
Allergens listed at the end of a list of ingredients
The gluten-free natto pasta sauce lists soy as its only allergen.

3. Dedicated Allergen Section

Many larger companies will often also include a section on the packaging that clearly lists any allergens in their food. This of course is according to the mandatory 7 or combined 27 allergens.

Finding this section on packages can save A LOT of time. Through the process of elimination, if you see wheat, PUT IT BACK ON THE SHELF. If you DON’T see wheat, do some more investigating.

This pack of curry lists the allergens at the end of the ingredients AND has a designated allergen section. These sections often say “of the 27 allergens, these are included in this package.” For this particular curry it lists wheat, dairy, beef, soy, chicken, apple, and gelatin.

Curry that contains wheat/gluten
This package of curry definitely contains wheat/gluten
Some packaging includes a designated allergen section
The allergen section can be found on many packaged foods.

WE KNOW. Just because it doesn’t have wheat, doesn’t mean it’s Gluten-Free

We know many people will be scratching their heads or will be upset because we’re teaching you how to find things you can’t even eat. BUT it does save a lot of time instantly eliminating what is off limits.

One way this labeling system is helpful is that most chain restaurants in Japan have pdf allergen menus somewhere hidden on their sites. One way we search for it is by searching “chain name アレルギーメニュー.”

So when you are out and about and pass the 100th Matsuya or Mos Burger, you may at least be able to find a meal that is WHEAT FREE.

This is where it is all up to your comfort level

We know each person living gluten-free has their own comfort level with what they will try or tolerate. This is especially true regarding cross contamination.

Most packaged food probably shares a factory or even a line with wheat/gluten. ALSO if you find allergen-free or gluten-free foods in a restaurant, they often share facilities and kitchens.

But we hope by giving you this information, you can all choose what you are comfortable with and hopefully make your stay a lot less of a hassle and more enjoyable.


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