Following an outbreak of E. coli O111 in April and May that took the life of two children and two adults, and sickened at least 56, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has imposed new regulations for raw meat dishes served in restaurants.
The outbreak was linked to a Korean-style seasoned raw beef dish, typically served with a raw egg, called yukhoe, (yukke in Japan) offered at the Yakiniku-zakaya Ebisu chain of restaurants.
Later, the president of Foods Forus Co., which owns the barbecue chain, acknowledged that for the past two years his company had not tested its raw meat for bacteria, as required by the health ministry.
Now the health ministry wants more safeguards to prevent such an outbreak, and is threatening penalties for those who ignore them.
Under the new rules, which became effective Oct. 1, raw meat must be heated at least 1 centimeter (0.4 inch) deep from the surface at 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit) for at least two minutes, cooled and then the meat must be trimmed one centimeter from each side. Special meat-processing equipment is necessary for the trimming.
In addition to yukhoe, dishes subject to the rules are beef sashimi, beef “tataki” (pounded beef) and tartar steak.
Those accused of violating the new regs may be forced to suspend business or face imprisonment of up to two years or a fine of 2 million yen ($26,000).
Under previous regulations, restaurants were allowed to serve raw beef to customers by just trimming the surface of the meat. There were no penalties for violating the rule.
Press reports in Japan say the food industry fears that acquisition of the necessary trimming devices and the complicated process itself will double or even triple the price of yukhoe. But they also note that many barbecue restaurants stopped serving the dish anway after the E. coli O111 outbreak.
The Japanese health ministry will review the new standards at the end of the year to see if they are being observed. It also plans to revise the regulations by Oct. 1 next year to require local governments to issue permits to restaurants that serve raw meat.