The approval opens the door for European-based ingredients firms to penetrate the lucrative Far East food market.
"We are delighted Japan has now approved natamycin use," said Roger Reichrath, business manager for preservation at DSM Dairy Ingredients.
"It brings major benefits to producers, importers and exporters of cheese and provides significant efficiencies for manufacturers."
Natamycin is a naturally occurring antimicrobial agent produced by the bacterium Streptomyces natalensis. It acts as an inhibitor of mould and yeast on food products and is already approved for use in the European Union, the United States and South America.
It therefore fits well into current trends towards additive-free natural foods. In order to keep up with such consumer preferences, food manufacturers are increasingly focussing on 'clean label' products in order to appeal to discerning customers.
The 'clean label' clause of course restricts the use of chemical additives. While this might hinder the growth of the synthetic antimicrobials market, it clearly creates new market opportunities for natural antimicrobials such as natamycin.
On top of this, increased food safety regulations and the cost of recalls due to contaminated foods are driving processors to search for better solutions to reduce pathogens in their plants. The market segments demanding more and more antimicrobials include dairy, bakery, beverages, and meat processors.
DSM Food Specialties has been marketing Delvocid, an antimycotic of which natamycin is the active compound, for over 50 years. It is used to prevent mould growth in a variety of cheeses, sausages and hams.
The company says it has no colour, odour or taste and is potent in small quantities.