Nori – Is it Safe to Eat?

Written by Max Goldberg on April 22, 2011. Follow Max on Twitter: @livingmaxwell.

The other day I did a post on the fantastic organic Nutty Nori Chips by Food on Purpose. When I bought the chips, I figured that the nori had been purchased many months before the earthquake in Japan and that there wasn’t much cause for concern.

Yet it did bring up an important issue, one that many readers have since contacted me about.

Given that so many people eat sushi or vegetable sushi rolls, is it safe to eat nori?

A Primer on Nori

Nori is a sea vegetable that is almost exclusively grown in the waters off of Japan, Korea and China.

Sea vegetables are widely eaten because of their ability to absorb important minerals from the sea, such as magnesium, calcium, iron, and iodine.

However, since they do act like a sponge, the sea vegetables also absorb toxic material, such as heavy metals and contaminants.

So, the quality of the sea water will determine the quality of the sea vegetable.

The Effect of the Japanese Earthquake

At first, many experts did not seem gravely concerned about the radiation levels in the ocean near Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors. This is because the sea is enormous and would have diluted any toxic material that made its way into the water.

However, in early April workers started to dump as much as 3 million gallons of contaminated water directly into the ocean. Obviously, this was much more worrisome.

Sushi restaurants could easily switch their purchasing of fish from Japan to fish that comes from other parts of the world. With nori, they do not have that flexibility.

The main concern now is that nori will easily absorb, and concentrate, plutonium and cesium, both of which are harmful to humans.

How much radioactive material the nori picks up remains to be seen.

Current Situation

I contacted Food on Purpose and asked them about their nori. What I heard was the following.

All of the nori that they have now and for the next several months is already here or has been shipped. In other words, it was harvested before the disaster.

Going forward, the distributor will be doing independent batch testing for radiation on all products harvested after the tsunami. In about 6 months time is when the company will be closely monitoring the quality of the nori. At the present moment, it is not an issue.

I contacted Great Eastern Sun, the distributor of the very popular organic nori called Emerald Cove, and never heard back from them.

Something else to consider here.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors are on the northeast coast of Japan while many of the sea vegetable beds are on the southwest part of the country. And from what I have been hearing, the winds and currents are blowing more towards the continental U.S. and Alaska, away from southeast Japan and China and Korea, the two other primary producers of nori.

My Take

According to Patty Lovera, Assistant Director of Food & Water Watch, “there is simply not enough information on radiation’s effects in Japanese seaweed imports to deduce whether or not they are safe following the Japanese nuclear disaster.”

I agree with her. We cannot be sure if it is safe but unless I know the exact situation of where my organic nori is coming from, such as the Food on Purpose example I gave above, I am not going to take a chance.

Now, this is very easy for me to do since I am not a sushi eater and rarely eat vegetable rolls that have nori in them.

I have been eating very little fish these days and if I do, I will make sure it is (a) not from Japan and (b) not on the Dirty Dozen of fish.

For many years, I have purchased my dulse from Maine Coast Sea Vegetable and will continue to do so. They are certified organic and do testing for all heavy metals, contaminants and pesticides.

At the end of the day, I wonder if this horrible incident in Japan will make people much more aware of the safety of ALL of the food that they are putting in their body. I really hope so.

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16 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for your thorough investigation!

    As the owner of Food On Purpose!, food safety as well as quality are our #1 concerns. As a raw, gluten free, dairy free, wheat free, vegan product, our Nori Chips are our #1 seller in the Whole Foods stores, so naturally, we are most concerned about this issue.

    Harvest of Seaweed from Japan is between October and January. This harvest is massive and product gleaned during this time is of course, for prior-tsunami crops, is totally safe! However, most distributors are issuing Gurantees of Testings and findings on their harvested Nori. Independent screenings will be done for future harvests. Our distributor for example for many years, has performed over 450 different test for contaminations as well as radon and other potential hazard elements that could affect our RAW NORI. They have now guaranteed testings that will be published and posted so that we will be able to insure our customers, at the time that we will need to use any post-tsunami Nori, that the product is safe and good to eat! Obviously this is something most people are concerned about, but at this point, there is simply no cause for alarm. Inventory of Raw Nori that has been harvested over the past years is large in quantity and inventory and will be used for may months if not a couple years down the road. We as a company have purchased enough Pre-Tsunami Nori to keep our product (and customers) happy, healthy and safe for the next year or more to come.

    Thank you Max for your concern and for your savvy ‘investigative reporting!’ on foods and things that really Matter. And thank you for eating “Food On Purpose!” “Intentional Choices, Powerful Foods”

    Paul Pennell, owner

    Written by Paul Pennell on April 28, 2011 @ 8:53 am
  2. Hi Paul,

    Thank you so much for sharing this. Your input as an insider is incredibly helpful and will give people more information about this important issue.

    Please continue to keep as posted as you get more news.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on April 28, 2011 @ 10:41 am
  3. Any possible update on the above issue? Any recent studies done on the current nori or seaweed being collected in the Japan area and how far do you think the contamination could go…i.e. china, thailand, etc…

    Written by Rana on July 14, 2011 @ 8:50 am
  4. Hi Rana,

    From what I have been told, the harvesting season doesn’t begin until this fall. So, when the fall comes, I will definitely be following up on this issue.

    Stay tuned. I’ll be reporting back in a few months time.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on July 14, 2011 @ 9:56 am
  5. I am so thankful to have found your comment on this as I eat nori and it has come to me that I might be eating radiation.

    Written by Grace F. on August 2, 2011 @ 12:49 pm
  6. Hi Grace,

    I’m happy you found the site and got the information you were looking for. This fall, the growing season, will be the real litmus test. Stay tuned as I am staying very on top of this issue.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on August 2, 2011 @ 12:52 pm
  7. Well, it’s October, and, in the immortal words of Judge Smails, “We’re waiting….”

    Granted, the harvest has purportedly just begun, but it will be interesting to see if anyone lives up to their word about the testing, etc, and what may be more interesting is if the tests show the tested product is safe because from everything that I’m reading the problem is unimaginably worse than it was 6+ months ago, and I’d find it practically impossible to believe that the food (Nori or any commestible) is safe anywhere in Japan, or, for that matter, the rest of the world.

    I’d have to go on record that I agree with those who are whispering that this is the most awful thing that has happened, and it’s, in no sense of the term, over.

    Written by jimbojamesiv on October 4, 2011 @ 5:51 am
  8. Well, it will be interesting to see the results, and I will absolutely keep you all informed as to anything I hear.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on October 4, 2011 @ 2:51 pm
  9. Hi. I found a post on another website that had a tweet showing some harvested nori from Tokyo Bay as having traces of radioactive cesium and iodine. Those elements were the only two tested for, however.

    You must ask yourself how, if the current was supposed take all radioactivity away from the nori growing regions southwest of Fukoshima, did this nori in Tokyo Bay become irradiated?

    The harsh truth is this: nobody knows where it goes, and it went all over.

    Written by Andre on March 9, 2012 @ 5:31 am
  10. Hi Andre,

    I have not seen that post yet I am eager to speak with people in the industry to get their inside views on the situation. From what I have been reading, the government is not disclosing the truth as to what is really going on.

    Thanks for your input.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on March 11, 2012 @ 12:31 pm
  11. I also contacted Great Eastern Sun, the makers of Emerald Cove Sushi to ask about radiation testing/levels in their sushi and received no response. I think at this point, in my opinion, it is safe to assume that they are hiding something and that their products are contaminated. I will refuse to buy their products until I receive assurances of their safety and encourage everyone else to refrain from doing so as well. Note that both Eden Foods and Navitas Naturals made posts about voluntary radiation testing regarding their seaweed immediately following the disaster. I also contacted Maine Coast, who informed me that the Nori it has in stock is still from pre-Fukushima as of May, 2012 and that future batches will be subject to testing. Great Eastern Sun is the only “reputable” company that has been quiet on this issue thus far. Remember, organic products are not necessarily subject to radiation testing. Why take the risk? Transparency = Trust.

    Written by Joe on May 14, 2012 @ 10:22 pm
  12. Correction: I meant to write Emerald Cove Sushi Nori, not Sushi.

    Written by Joe on May 14, 2012 @ 10:23 pm
  13. Hi Joe,

    Thanks for sharing your research. It is much appreciated.

    Yes, if a company is not responding or sharing their info, that certainly raises a red flag.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on May 15, 2012 @ 9:42 am
  14. I’ve been trying to do some research on Emerald Cove Organic Pacific Sushi Nori, regarding radioactive material. Out of the very few articles I’ve found, they’re all dated. I’m puzzled that there was no update to this article. I’m posting this in June 2013, so that means that they’ve harvested a new batch. Has any testing been done on the most recent harvest? If so, why isn’t anyone reporting on it?

    Written by Alice Smith on June 26, 2013 @ 11:43 pm
  15. Hi Alice,

    It is a subject that I am now investigating. Stay tuned.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on July 1, 2013 @ 3:17 pm
  16. Any updates?

    Written by Erica on December 18, 2013 @ 10:54 pm

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