Health ministry urges caution on eating raw chicken sashimi – Asahi Shimbun

Chicken sashimi and “tataki” (seared chicken breasts and livers) are a common menu item in yakitori bars and restaurants across Japan.

However, eating undercooked or raw chicken can cause food poisoning via the campylobacter bacteria, which can cause severe stomach pain and diarrhea.

Raw beef liver and raw pork are banned, but no such restrictions have been imposed on raw chicken, despite many cases of food poisoning caused by eating tainted bird meat.

“It is not fatty, and I love it. I never worry about food poisoning,” said a 39-year-old company employee enjoying a plate of chicken sashimi at a yakitori bar in Tokyo.

The owner of the yakitori bar added, “Chicken sashimi and tataki have been some of our popular dishes since we opened (50 years ago). I am careful about campylobacter.”

The owner said she purchases chickens freshly butchered in the morning for sashimi, and the meat is boiled in hot water until the surface turns white. No cases of food poisoning have ever been reported related to her restaurant.

In June this year, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare finally took action and advised regional public health centers to take steps to implement preventative measures to reduce food poisoning from raw chicken.

Although the advisory is not legally binding, the ministry printed fliers asking restaurants to change their practices.

“Re-evaluate raw and half-raw chicken menus,” the flier reads, urging restaurants to heat the meat at 75 degrees at its core for one minute.

The ministry also printed fliers for customers, urging them to be careful and “choose well-cooked chicken dishes.”

The main cause of chicken food poisoning is campylobacter, which is found in the intestines of the chickens and other animals.

Campylobacter is responsible for about 60 percent of all bacterial food poisoning cases in Japan. About 300 cases are reported annually with an estimated 2,000 individuals affected.

More than 800 people complained about stomachaches or diarrhea in Tokyo and Fukuoka in April and May after eating chicken breast sashimi and chicken sushi rolls at events made by the same company.

The mass food poisoning in the span of two months prompted the ministry to issue its advisory.

According to ministry preliminary statistics, there were 56 cases with 395 people treated at the hospital for food poisoning from campylobacter from June to August. More than half of the identified causes were due to consuming chicken.

The bacteria can get transferred to the meat if a butcher mishandles chicken viscera. Consumers can be infected if the meat is not properly cooked, even though the bacteria can be killed by heat.

Another ministry report says that 67 percent of chicken meat processed for consumption tested positive for the bacteria, and freshness does not always mean safe.

In 2011, five people died of food poisoning after eating “yukke” (Korean-style raw beef). In 2012, the health ministry banned restaurants from serving raw beef liver to customers. After the ban, raw pork liver became popular, but it was declared verboten in 2015.

The ministry set up an expert panel on raw meat, including horse, deer and other wild animals, in 2013. The panel’s report said in 2014 that raw chicken has a relatively low life-threatening risk, unlike raw beef or pork, and recommended that the ministry implement measures after investigating ways to prevent campylobacter contamination and during distribution of the meat rather than banning raw chicken immediately.

“There is a certain demand for raw chicken eating, and it is part of our food culture,” a health ministry official said.

The ministry plans to estimate the number of campylobacter infection cases that go unreported to gauge the extent of the food poisoning as it only causes minor diarrhea in some cases. In addition, the ministry seeks to implement sterilizing methods, such as rapid freezing technology or food disinfectants.

“We never expect the public to consume chickens raw,” said Teruaki Oshima with the Japan Chicken Association, which is made up of meat producers and food processing companies. “If consumers choose to eat raw chicken, they should carefully consider the risks, and the level of hygiene and credibility of the restaurant.”

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