Are Korean-style yukke raw beef dishes about to disappear from menus?
On Saturday, the government introduced stricter standards for restaurants serving raw beef after the deaths of four persons who ate yukke at restaurants in Toyama and other prefectures.
Some barbecue restaurants may take raw meat off their menus because it would cost more to prepare and prices could triple.
Under the new standards, restaurants will be obliged to heat the meat at 60 C to a depth of one centimeter or more for at least two minutes, and trim it with implements used exclusively for handling the meat.
Many restaurants will be forced to buy heat-treated blocks of meat from meat processors, increasing costs.
Violators of the new standards face such punishments as suspension of business, imprisonment for up to two years or a fine up to 2 million yen.
Shigeru Otaki, 43, who manages a barbecue restaurant in Naka Ward, Yokohama, has decided not to serve yukke raw beef for the time being.
"To meet the new standards, we'd have to increase our capital investment and cut off the portion of meat that had been heated," Otaki said. "If we do that, a plate of raw beef will cost about 4,000 yen, more than triple the current price. We can't offer [such an expensive dish] at our restaurant."
Hironori Ochi, 29, a company employee who visited the restaurant Friday, said: "It's a pity we won't be able to order raw beef. I don't think such strict standards are necessary for good restaurants [like this one]."
A barbecue restaurant in Toyama, which had offered a plate of raw beef yukke at 504 yen that had been discounted from 840 yen in September under the catchphrase "Sayonara yukke," started serving horse meat yukke from Saturday.
Obviously frustrated, the 39-year-old restaurant manager said, "We carried out thorough tests for bacteria and are confident in handling raw beef."
Even under the new standards, a number of restaurants want to keep raw beef yukke dishes on their menus because they are so popular.
A 61-year-old cook at a barbecue restaurant in Koto Ward, Tokyo, said, "We're thinking of offering [yukke] by raising the price by about 500 yen [per plate]."
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.
New rules 'too strict'
Because of the stringent new rules, Koji Nakai, executive member of All Japan Yakiniku Association, believes yukke dishes will disappear from menus for the time being. "[Under the new standards] the prices of yukke will be double or triple ," he said.
About 1,800 barbecue restaurants are members of the association.
After the new standards were disclosed on Sept. 12, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry received several hundred complaints and inquiries from barbecue restaurants about how the meat should be prepared.
The complaints included: "There's hardly any time to change our methods" and "The standards are too strict."
The ministry distributed documents to prefectural governments Wednesday explaining how the meat should be prepared.
The central government will determine whether the new standards are being observed by the end of the year. It also plans to revise the regulations by Oct. 1 next year to oblige local governments to issue permits to restaurants serving raw meat.
A senior ministry official said, "Many restaurants started offering raw beef when it became popular, even though there was a great danger that the meat contained toxins."
In an appeal for understanding, he said, "Safety must take precedence over a drop in supplies or a price increase."