TOYAMA/FUKUI – Police opened an investigation Friday into the chain of “yakiniku” barbecue restaurants linked to the deaths of four people who ate raw meat dishes at its outlets.
The joint investigation squad of Toyama and Fukui prefectural police raided the headquarters of Food Forus Co., operator of the Yakiniku-zakaya Ebisu restaurant chain, in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture.
Also raided were the chain’s outlets in Toyama and Fukui prefectures, as well as the Tokyo office of a meat distributor that provided the beef in question.
With an eye on building a case of professional negligence resulting in death and injury, the investigators will hear what the operator and the distributor have to say to determine the cause of the poisoning.
Also Friday, the Toyama Prefectural Government ordered two of the company’s outlets in the prefecture, one in Tonami and the other in Takaoka, where food poisoning cases occurred, to be suspended from operating for an indefinite period of time.
The barbecue outlets were routinely serving customers raw beef that had been left unsold the previous day, their operator said, adding that the company had not made it a rule for its restaurants to trim the beef to remove contaminated surface areas before serving.
Regarding serving the leftover beef, a senior Foods Forus official said, “It’s not that we had any basis (for the practice) on sanitation grounds. It cannot be helped if we are criticized as lacking proper awareness for food safety.”
In addition to the four victims — two boys and two women in Toyama and Fukui — more than 35 people have been hospitalized, with more than 20 in serious condition, the police said.
Patients have also been reported in Kanagawa Prefecture, prompting police there to launch their own investigation.
During an inspection by a local health office late last month, the meat distributor said it does not provide the beef to be consumed raw.