October 6, 2011


Raw beef dishes threatened by new Japanese government rules



The Japanese government has implemented stricter regulations on raw meat, raising concerns among Japanese meatpackers and restaurateurs on the bleak outlook for catering popular dishes. 


The Japan Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) has stiffened regulations after four people died of food poisoning earlier this year upon consuming raw beef at the Food Forus company's Yakiniku-zakaya Ebisu restaurant chain.


"Many restaurants started offering raw beef when it became popular, even though there was a great danger that the meat contained toxins. Safety must take precedence over a drop in supplies or a price increase," a senior MHLW official said.


MHLW's new rules require meatpackers to heat a section of raw meat at least one centimeter (0.4 inch) deep from the surface at 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit) for two minutes or more to sterilise it before shipping to restaurants. The eateries will then trim the meat surface before preparing dishes. Dishes subject to the rules are "yukke" (Korean-style tartar steak with a raw egg), beef sashimi, beef "tataki" (pounded beef) and tartar steak. Those accused of serious regulatory violations may be forced to suspend business or face imprisonment of up to two years or a fine of YEN2million (US$26,000).


Under previous regulations, restaurants were allowed to serve raw beef to customers by just trimming the surface of the meat. However, even if these rules were violated, no one was punished.


Prices under the new system are among the food industry's fears about the new rule's effects. As larger sections of raw meat will be trimmed under the new rules, the portions of meat that can be served will reportedly shrink to 30% to 40% of the original size, down from 80%.


The Japanese government will determine whether the new standards are being observed by the end of the year. It also plans to revise the regulations by October 1 next year to oblige local governments to issue permits to restaurants serving raw meat.