Once a popular mainstay of "yakiniku" barbecue restaurants, raw beef liver will be taken off menus starting July 1, prompted by last year's outbreak of deadly food poisoning cases at a now-closed low-cost restaurant chain.
The health ministry on June 12 ordered a ban on raw beef liver in restaurants, over the objections of grilled meat restaurants and a major meat cooperative association.
The ministry also instructed yakinuku restaurants serving raw beef liver to direct customers to heat the dish properly at the table before consuming it. In addition, meat shops must instruct customers to heat raw beef liver when selling it.
A health ministry panel on June 12 endorsed the ban, which will be put in place by changing standards of the Food Sanitation Act. The panel judged at present, the safety of beef liver cannot be ensured in ways other than heating.
Violators could face up to a two-year prison term or a fine of up to 2 million yen ($25,100).
The All Japan Meat Industry Co-operative Associations and the All Japan Yakiniku Association (a group of grilled meat restaurants) opposed the ban, saying proper preparation of the dishes is the responsibility of each establishment.
The ministry found that enterohemorrhagic E. coli, which causes serious cases of food poisoning and includes the deadly O-157 bacterium, could enter the body through raw liver. It decided that there is no way to guarantee the complete removal of such bacteria, even if the meat is fresh and hygienic steps taken, to allow customers to safely consume raw beef liver.
Heating the entire inside of the meat for 30 minutes or more at 63 degrees or 1 minute or more at 75 degrees will be recommended.
Once a person is infected with O-157, the patient could die after developing serious kidney disease or encephalopathy. And because the strain is highly contagious, secondary infection is feared.
In last year's food poisoning outbreak in Toyama and in three other prefectures, more than 180 people displayed symptoms after eating a raw beef dish at the Yakiniku Sakaya Ebisu chain restaurants. One person in Fukui Prefecture and four people in Toyama Prefecture died, and the operator of the chain later went bankrupt amid the negative publicity.
The cases involved "yukhoe," a Korean spiced ground beef dish served raw. The outbreak forced the ministry to review standards for handling uncooked meat. Raw beef liver emerged from that review as a priority because it has caused more food poisoning cases than raw ground beef.
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