An Ito-Yokado Co supermarket employee has been has been accused of a mass mislabelling broiled eels, one of Japan’s favourite summer foods.

Police in Yokohama have alleged that a manager of one Ito-Yokado store in Tokyo and five others knowingly conspired to sell possibly tainted Chinese eels as a Japanese product. Japanese eels are subject to strict traceability controls where Chinese eels are viewed as possibly carrying Malachite green, a banned synthetic antibacterial substance, and are generally shunned in Japan.

Yokohama police say Sotaro Ishihara, 58, a former manager in charge of Ito-Yokado’s overseas food business, and others conspired in 2006 to falsify the eels’ import records. The police allege that the six then resold them in violation of Japan’s Food Sanitation Law.

According to Ito-Yokado, the company imported frozen grilled eels from China from 2003 to 2005 to sell in its stores. Following a scare amongst Japanese consumers over Chinese imported eels, police allege the suspects then relabelled and sold the eels rather than export them back to China.

An investigation conducted later by the local government revealed malachite green in some of the resold products.

According to a statement by owner Seven and Holdings Co, it confirms Ito-Yokado sold some of the eels in its stock to a Japanese importer Takayama Seafood but said: ‘‘Ito-Yokado has done nothing illegal in this case.”

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