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Because of the Japanese Earthquake and Potential Radiation, Is Nori Safe to Eat? (Updated)

Because of the Japanese Earthquake and Potential Radiation, Is Nori Safe to Eat? (Updated)

(At the bottom of this post you will find important updates from two distributors/sellers of nori, Great Eastern Sun and Sunfood, and one organic food company, Food on Purpose, who uses nori in its products. The original post was written on April 22nd) —— The other day I did a post on the fantastic organic […]

Sea Vegetables

(At the bottom of this post you will find important updates from two distributors/sellers of nori, Great Eastern Sun and Sunfood, and one organic food company, Food on Purpose, who uses nori in its products. The original post was written on April 22nd)


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.

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.


After I wrote the original post on April 22nd, I have since received responses from three companies who sell or distribute nori. Here is what they had to say.

From Brian Bowers, Chief Operating Officer of Sunfood

I’ve spoken to both Maine Coast and Goldmine Natural Foods, our two sea vegetable suppliers. They both assured us that all of the current inventory we have was collected before the Fukushima incident and is free of radiation. They also assured us that future shipments will be tested before they are shipped from the source and again when they arrive in the US. We have requested that we be provided with these reports before we accept any sea vegetables that were harvested after the incident.

From Marnie Mikell, Public Relations Executive from Great Eastern Sun, Distributor of Emerald Cove Organic Nori

1. Emerald Cove Organic Nori is grown, harvested, and packaged in China, not Japan. As we all know, winds and ocean currents move from west to east, so because China is on the west side of Japan, any radiation fallout would circle the globe before arriving there.

2. All Emerald Cove seaweeds currently in our warehouse and on store shelves is from the 2010 harvest, which occurred in the winter and therefore happened before the March 11 Japanese disaster.

3. As an organic product, Emerald Cove nori is tested for heavy metal and microbial contamination as a requirement for certification. When the 2011 seaweed crop is ready to harvest, which will be in the coming winter, additional testing may be done to determine if there is any abnormal level of radiation, however it remains to be seen what testing will be done and who will do it.

Our customers can rest assured that we have not, do not, and will not sell unsafe food products. With more than thirty years in the natural foods industry, we are committed to providing the highest quality natural and organic foods we can provide, for the health of ourselves and our planet.

From Paul Pennell, Founder of Food On Purpose

For many many months, probably up to nearly a year, the Nori we use in our Nori Chips was harvested well before the terrible events in Japan. We, and our distributors, are stocked up for many seasons ahead with Nori. However, at the point that any products start coming in from Japan (post-earthquake), all ingredients will be tested, marked and stamped so our customers know exactly what is going on. I will eventually be creating a sticker that guarantees the safety of our Nori.


  • I was macrobiotic back in the 1970’s and for decades ate sea vegetables on a daily basis. I quit eating sea vegetables harvested in Asian waters after the Fukoshima nuclear disaster. China is the MOST toxic, polluted nation on earth and there is considerable scientific data to support this. The ocean off the coast of China is full of heavy metals, petrochemical agricultural run-off, dioxin and all sorts of toxic waste. I do not EVER buy food, cosmetics or household items such as cookware or kitchenware made in China. #1 slave labor factories are quire common #2 it is the most toxic place on earth.

    If anyone things sea vegetables harvested in Chinese ocean is safe, you are living in a fool’s paradise.

    I love sea vegetables – but quit buying any that are from Asian waters – the ocean current drift is strong enough to transport nuclear fallout from Japan Fukoshmia nuclear disaster all over the Pacific Rim.

    The Maine Coast sea vegetable company is the only company I buy sea vegetables from.

    I am not a “Nutrition Nazi” but we are already bombarded with glyphosate, GMO, dioxin, heavy metals, EMF, pesticides, petrochemicals such as MTBE are in the entire drinking water and underground aquifier system of California. Why should I risk it by eating Asian ocean harvested sea vegetables? Nuclear waste has a very long half life – since there is really NO definitive answer, better off to elminate Asian harvested sea vegetables and switch to Maine Coast Sea Vegetables – I live in Northern California and used to love to buy sea veggies from a small, family owned company that harvested sea vegetables off the California coast. BIG PROBLEM – the Farallone Islands near San Francsisco Bay is FULL of horrid toxic waste. The USA Navy has been dumping spent nuclear fuel rods from nuclear powered submarines off the coast dating back to WWII era.

    Colleen Whalen
    Food Literacy Educator
    Community Nutrition, Certified

    • Mr. Ed says:

      From the Maine Coast Sea Vegetable Website:
      “Ever since we began harvesting indigenous seaweeds in 1971, our friends and customers have been asking for a good, clean nori sheet. After unsuccessfully trying to make a sheet from our local porphyra species, we learned that the Chinese were making excellent nori sheets and started selling those. Several years ago we organically certified the nori through OCIA International, our seaweed certifier. Now, with the help of a third party importer, we are pleased to provide you with a premium product. The production and export of this nori involves no human rights abuse and, to the best of our knowledge has no connection with the Chinese government.”

      Because Koreans do business with China and adulterated Chinese oils are commonly sold as pure, many Koreans purchase sesame seeds and personally take their seeds to a seed pressing company where personal observation insures purity of product.

      A known good source of nori or gim/kim sushi-sheets may not be available.
      I would like to find a known-good source.

      Mr. Ed
      Equestrian Support Specialist

  • andrew says:

    could i be as simple as building landbased breeding tanks for sea vegetables using the absorbtion and harvesting qualities of seaweed to produce a similarly vitamin and mineral rich sea vegetable with a controlable environment.
    In fact could you breed seaveges loaded with specific amounts of different minerals, vitamins etc. Could the seaveg host be used to absorb all types of varying potencies, or more specifically designed health food.. ie One product higher doses of vit C or trace elements etc

  • Roy says:

    Radiation distribution is not affected by winds and tides. Only radiated debris does that. Radiation moves everywhere in a radial form, thus anywhere on the periphery of the source of radiation – regardless of winds and currents – will be affected. Radiation does lessen with distance but my point is you need to form a seclusion zone in a radial circumference fashion starting from Fukushima, and gauge the radiation effect depending on distance.
    Radiation goes through almost everything, and winds and currents do not direct its destination, but only the destination of the physical radiated debris.
    In conclusion, now in april 2015 I would not ever eat anything from japan or china or southeast russia.

  • Michelle says:

    Thank you for writing this post regarding Japan’s nuclear disaster. I am aware of what I eat and where it is from because of this situation. This article is a few years old and I could not find an updated one. I am curious as to what your current assessment of the situation is. Do you feel safe eating Alaskan Salmon? Most sea salt is from the coast of California. Do you feel comfortable eating that? I would love to read an updated article!


  • Cal says:

    Regarding Emerald Cove:

    I have a problem with their statement. Now I must say that Emerald Cove has the tastiest nori. However I have tested EC, Eden, and Natural Import Company’s nori. The highest ionizing radiation comes from EC. Eden is second, and NIC is last (same as background).

    EC is twice background.

  • Jen redmond says:

    My kids love seaweed rice crackers. Are they safe to eat? Should I be sourcing a brand that labels where the nori is harvested?
    Looking forward to hearing back from you,
    Warm regards

  • Nichole says:

    I have been looking into this more recently due to the multiple explosions from the continually melting-down reactors in Fukushima. We are also seeing 300 tons of water coming out of the reactors contanimated, of which who-knows how much is draining off into the ocean. Unfortunately this is a world wide problem that is being allowed to be swept under the rug and just let them Japanese handle it… the same Tokyo Electric company that covered up the gravity of the problem and poisoned their own people, and continue to do so to this day. All I can do is protect me and mine.
    What I am wondering is, A) can you give us an update on the Nori situation? and B) have you found any alternatives that possibly grow on a self-contained farm?
    My 12 year old son will eat his weight in sushi, and is very upset about Mom not letting him eat it anymore until we find a safe source.

  • Izzy says:

    Seriously !

    The three sources from your validation of Nori being safe comes from the very sources that sell it ?
    That’s like saying the only valid testimony in a murder trial comes from the defense, without any other testimony allowed in court.

    There has to be a legitimate OBJECTIVE source to examine the safety of these foods, and conduct thorough scientific tests that can give a current assessment of their safety .

    I certainly am not going to trust my life with the assurances you have provided in this article.

  • david taylor says:

    China has been testing the ocean off their coast and is finding lots of Fukushima radiation. I wouldnt buy the Chinese Nori touted here. I dont see one single radiation test on these company websites. “Trust us” they say. Who are we supposed to think they are? The government?

  • tslate says:

    Let’s be honest, playing a game of ocean currents and how much, when and where has little meaning. Eventually if the contaminents are there in large enough quantities it will end up in some life forms. Now whether it means a high or low degree of contamination I doubt anyone can even venture an educated guess. Time will tell. However, let me be clear to anyone who thinks that if a vendor says they test that means you are safe. Testing is only going to be batch specific and certainly not to any significant degree as the tests are very expensive. Second they know there’s no way for you to know. Third what is a “safe” amount, to the vendor not wiling to lose profit that can be much higher than you’d willinging ingest. So as usual buyer beware and ask specific questions such as how the testing is done, what testing, frequency and posting of detailed results. Verification of the labs used is also important. If the vendor balks at giving details I’d look elsewhere.

  • Tomas DiFiore says:

    Hello, here’s a fantastic package. More than you might want to know.
    Call it an update.

    What about Organic Seaweed? If you do a search,
    “Organic Doesn’t Mean Radiation Free”

    “Fast Food Super Food: An Ocean Of Seaweed Salads”

    California wild sustainably hand harvested edible sea vegetables are tested Radiation free. And there’s a whole lot more to it than just that.

    Buy local, think global.

    Indonesia supplied half the world’s dried seaweed by weight until the Montara Oil Field disaster 3 years ago. And it is primed already to be the largest value added seaweed producer in the world – just as the new Montara Gas and Oil Field Bonanza goes back online. But it’s 24 to 1 odds. LNG $24 billion Seaweed Chips $1billion

    Delicious and Nutritious – North Coast Seaweeds
    Tomas DiFiore
    Northern, CA

  • Karen says:

    Hello Max,
    Thank you for writing on this topic! Do you have or know of any more current writings about tis situation of seaweed and safety?
    Many blessings,

    • Max Goldberg says:

      Hi Karen,

      It is a topic that definitely needs to be updated, I agree, and I’ll be on top of that right after Expo East, which is this week. Look for something in early October.

      Based on what I have been hearing/reading, the radiation levels in California are still very high but are not being reported on by the mainstream media.

      Live well,

  • I’ve been wanting to buy some matcha tea, but I think all of it comes from Japan, and I wouldn’t want to buy any food or ingredients from Japan nowadays. Is there an organic matcha tea that comes from somewhere else?

    • Max Goldberg says:

      Hi Judy,

      I was recently sent an organic green tea from Denmark. I am not sure if it is produced there or simply distributed there. Let me find out and I’ll leave another comment with what I learn.

      Live well,

  • Joe says:

    Regarding Marnie Mikell statement, this is just empty PR rhetoric. It does not answer any questions regarding contamination or testing. Out of all the companies I contacted regarding radiation contamination, Great Eastern Sun, makers of Emerald Cove Sushi Nori, is the only one that has not responded and has been otherwise quiet on this important issue regarding their consumers’ safety. Be advised that Eden Foods, Maine Coast and Navitas naturals subject their products to voluntary testing. Why take the risk when there are better quality options out there from companies concerned with their products’ integrity rather than just $$. Anyway, thanks for the weather lesson Great Eastern Sun.

  • Sth says:

    Max here is another link there is a lot of reading on this and also states that the Nth of Aust’ has had some as well but kept very quite.

  • Sth says:

    I have been keeping and eye on the happenings in Japan and it is quite frighting here are a few sites that are informative. The Radiation has already reached the USA–and God know where else

    and also Dr Helen Caldicott’s site where she does a program every Friday EST and you can listen to her podcasts and also older ones as well

    • Max Goldberg says:

      It is very frightening indeed and no government wants its people to know the truth about what is going on with the radiation. Thanks for the links, I’ll share them.

      Live well,

  • Sth says:

    We are not being told the dangers of this horrendous and tragic happening in Japan and it is putting the worlds food and air in great danger. They are NOT testing as they should be and are NOT telling us the truth.

    • Max Goldberg says:

      I couldn’t agree more. From what I have read, the Japanese authorities are not disclosing the truth to the citizens there.

      If this were to happen in the U.S., our government would be reacting in the exact same manner. Just look at 9/11. Days after the accident, the EPA told everyone the air was safe. Of course, we know that was not the case.

      Live well,

  • gmc says:

    Marnie Mikell [Public Relations Executive of “Great Eastern Sun” Distributor of Emerald Cove Organic Nori] said:

    “”Emerald Cove Organic Nori is grown, harvested, and packaged in China, not Japan. As we all know, winds and ocean currents move from west to east, so because China is on the west side of Japan, any radiation fallout would circle the globe before arriving there.””

    As we all know, winds and ocean curents move from west to east. Rubbish! Is Marnie oblivious to The Ocean Conveyor or is she just BS’ing. Check the directions for yourselves folks:

  • stephanie haughey says:

    Hello Max,

    Thank you for sharing this very, very helpful and educational information.
    I shared your post with my colleagues, customers and friends.
    Thank you for doing the homework on our behalf.

    With appreciation,

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