The health ministry plans to ban sales of beef livers for raw consumption as early as in June to prevent food poisoning caused by potentially fatal E. coli bacteria, sources said.
The ban would be imposed under the Food Sanitation Law, with violators facing a maximum two-year prison term or a fine of up to 2 million yen ($24,096).
But meat industry officials are demanding continued sales of uncooked beef livers, saying the ban would result in tens of billions of yen in losses.
They said they are working on a new and safe method to eliminate E. coli from the inner parts of livers.
The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is expected to ask the Food Safety Commission at the Cabinet Office in April to assess the decision to ban sales. If the ministry receives the green light, the ban will take effect as early as in June.
A subcommittee of the ministry’s Pharmaceutical Affairs and Food Sanitation Council, an advisory panel, on March 30 endorsed the ministry’s proposal to require sufficient cooking of beef livers.
The proposal was made after the enterohemorrahagic E. coli, which causes bleeding in the intestines and includes the deadly O-157 bacterium, was discovered in beef livers in December.
Liver is already known to contain Camphylobacter bacteria, which can also cause food poisoning.
The subcommittee is calling for a ban on sales of uncooked beef livers and requiring businesses to cook the center of the livers--not just the liver surface--at 63 degrees for 30 minutes or a comparable cooking process for sterilization.
The subcommittee is also urging the Consumer Affairs Agency to take measures, through food labels or menus, to urge customers not to eat beef livers raw.
The subcommittee, heeding the beef industry’s request, is expected to review the new method of eliminating E. coli from livers, even if the ministry moves forward on imposing the sales ban, the sources said.
The ministry had been reviewing standards for handling uncooked meat after a series of food poisoning cases occurred at restaurants in April last year involving a Korean dish called "yukhoe," which consists of raw ground beef seasoned with spices.
Handling raw beef livers emerged as an urgent issue because it has caused more food poisoning cases than raw ground beef.
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