Surrounded by hills on three sides, the town of Fukuyama, Kirishima City of Kagoshima Prefecture is located in the fortunate area with abundant water conserved in the middle of the Aira Caldera Wall, known for its mild-climate throughout the year. This quality natural water has been called “Meguri no mizu” (water of circulation) since the Edo/Satsuma period.
From the late Edo period, the production of rice vinegar in handcrafted ceramic jars by using the sunlight and the microorganisms started in Fukuyama, which was considered one of the most unique methods in the world. “Sakamoto Kurozu, Artisan Amber Rice Vinegar” is deeply rooted in the local culture and climate where brewery engineers keep such a traditional production method nicknamed “ceramic jar field”.
We sat down for an interview with Sakamoto Kurozu Inc. which promotes the sale of amber rice vinegar with traditional techniques that have lasted for 200 years. Sakamoto Kurozu, Inc. promotes sales to domestic and overseas markets namely the US, and we learned about their development in acquiring a GFSI-recognised certification.
(GFSI) First of all, could you please tell us about the company’s efforts towards ensuring food safety?
(Sakamoto Kurozu Inc., hereafter referred to Sakamoto)
We started making Artisan Amber Rice Vinegar using ceramic jars in Fukuyama Town, Krishima City, Kagoshima Prefecture since the late Edo period and have proudly continued the traditional method for a long period of time. Considering the importance of our cherished, traditional methods to be passed onto the future generations and to clearly document our manufacturing technology, we decided to acquire ISO 9001 certification, followed by JUSE-HACCP certification. From discussions with the people around us, we understood the importance of food defense and moved on to acquire FSSC22000 certification.
(GFSI) What made you realise the importance of food defense?
(Sakamoto) After acquiring ISO 9001 certification 12 years ago, we have been developing HACCP aiming to export our products to the US and Europe. While exchanging more information with other companies, we came to recognise that our stance towards for food defense is important in order to deal with companies overseas.
(GFSI) Which countries are you currently exporting to?
(Sakamoto) To the US, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, France, UAE, China and South Korea, but mainly to the US.
Exporting to the US started with sales to Japanese-Americans, but now we feel that consumers are widened regardless of nationality or culture. We do research on fermentation of microorganisms and functions of Artisan Amber Rice Vinegar with 13 universities and 20 laboratories, so we hope to enlarge the market based on the academic evidence, revealing more about benefits of Artisan Amber Rice Vinegar as well as establishing the trust in our products.
(GFSI) How do you deal with the US Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)?
(Sakamoto) In response to “Preventive controls for human food” which is required by the FSMA, we prepared for the implementation by assigning 1 dedicated PCQI staff out of 10 members in our food safety team. Although our facilities are registered as a manufacturing site by FDA, we have not been audited yet.
(GFSI) With regards to FSSC22000 certification, how long did it take to acquire?
(Sakamoto) As we have already acquired JUSE-HACCP certification, it took about only a year to prepare for FSSC22000. The fact that our newly built Fukuyama factory was equipped with facilities that conform with FSSSC 22000 requirements helped us to acquire the certification relatively in a short period.
(GFSI) What did you find difficult in the process of acquiring the certification and how do you find the benefits now?
(Sakamoto) In terms of implementations, we made use of ISO 9001 for the idea of quality management and had the seven principles and 12 steps of HACCP and PRP in place in order to proceed with FSC22000. However, at this new Fukuyama factory, we ended up producing not only black vinegar but also new line ups such as salad dressings and beverages in comparison to the old factories. This resulted in spending some time to make the flow diagrams and hazard analysis on them.
The good thing was that we were able to have a common language which contributed to better communication. As our awareness for improvement was raised, we felt more confident and everyone has gained a sharp eye on efficiency of work.
This was also what I felt when I initially worked on ISO without a work manual and it took a couple of years of discussions about 10 years ago or so. Having these experiences gave us confidence.
(GFSI) Your story reminds us of the theme of “how to develop employee behaviour” which is covered in GFSI’s “Food Safety Culture” position paper. How does this apply to you?
(Sakamoto) I think that acquiring ISO9001 certification was a major turning point. Until then, employees were working without understanding what they were doing. By setting the bar higher, it made them consider more and eager to understand all the aspects of their work. Each employee came to understand the purpose and meaning of their own work. All 55 of our employees are qualified as ISO 9001 internal auditors and I believe that such practices contribute to raising awareness and a sense of improvement among our employees.
(GFSI) Lastly, please tell us about your future work.
(Sakamoto) Since we have been practicing 5S patrol for a long time, our factory is received high evaluations for its cleanness by external audits. By continuing this practice, we aim to raise the capability of hazard analysis of our employees. The well circulated PDCA cycle helps to keep improving the productivity and efficiency and also works to clarify the scientific evidence of traditional methods such as fermentation processes. With the amendment of the Food Sanitation Act, we will properly deal with HACCP as it becomes mandatory.
Given the long history of Japanese food culture, the topic of the international standardisation of traditional methods is key. Sakamoto Kurozu's approach seems to be a great help for other companies involved in the traditional food production. With their intention to pass traditional techniques onto the future generations, Sakamoto Kurozu has made their inherited manufacturing skills of recognised by international standards and has tackled obstacles to raise further awareness on food safety culture. Thank you all for sharing your story.
This post was written and contributed by:
Marketing Manager North Asia, Business Assurance