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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

New Rules Could Halt Raw Beef Dishes

Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) has made tougher regulations on the use of raw meats - which may make the sale of such products impossible in restaurants.

Changes were brought about after four people died of food poisoning this year after eating 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," says an un-named senior ministry official.

The Ministry's revised rules state that meatpackers must heat a section of raw meat at least one centimeter (0.4 inches) deep from the surface at 60 degrees Celsius (140 F) for two minutes or more to sterilize it before shipping to restaurants.

Restaurants are then required to trim away the meat's cooked surface to expose the raw meat before preparing any raw meat dishes.

The popular dishes this new rule encompasses are: yukke (a Korean-style tartar steak with a raw egg), beef sashimi (thinly sliced raw beef), beef tataki (pounded beef) and steak tartar.

Penalties for not following this regulation are stiff, with serious in fractions possibly causing the closure of the business, imprisonment up to two years or a ¥2-million (~ CDn/US $27,200) fine.

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.

Meatpackers and restauranteers fear this new rule will affect pricing of the useable raw meat, as larger swathes of raw beef will be trimmed away from every cut. Prior to this new rule, after trimming away the raw beef from a cut, restauranteers could expect a 20 per cent loss. But now with even more meat to be trimmed, they expect the portions of meat that can be served may go down to 30 to 40 per cent of the original size.

And, just because it made the law, don't expect ministry officials to sit around chewing the cud. It will be active in ensuring its rules are followed, with further plans to add to the regulations next October 2012 to oblige local governments to issue permits to restaurants serving raw meat.

Files compiled by Andrew Joseph

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