Fans of raw pork liver savored their last chance to taste the dish on Thursday night as they expressed mixed feelings on the arrival of a new food safety regulation Friday that bans eateries from serving pork sashimi.
“I often eat (pork liver sashimi) at yakiton (grilled pork) restaurants. I don’t know what I’ll do if I can’t eat it anymore,” said Hiromi Sasamoto, 33, as she downed the sashimi at Aji no Isohei, a pub in Tokyo’s Oimachi district.
“I always order this if restaurants have it on the menu,” said Shota Komukai, 31, who was with Sasamoto, adding that he likes the melting texture and sweetness of what is known locally as buta reba sashi.
A 42-year-old man who hadn’t eaten pork liver before said he came to taste it because Thursday was the last day to try it.
Compared with beef liver sashimi, “it tastes plainer. It’s delicious,” he said.
Restaurants said they got extremely busy serving the sashimi as the deadline approached.
Takashi Sato, the proprietor of Aji no Isohei, said that pretty much all of the customers who came Wednesday and Thursday ordered the dish.
Restaurants serving raw pork liver surged after the government banned beef liver sashimi in 2012, according to health center data, so the health ministry considered it necessary to regulate raw pork as well.
In 2011, yukke (raw beef) served at Yakiniku-zakaya Ebisu, a chain of Korean-style barbecue restaurants, caused the deaths of five people who contracted E. coli food poisoning.
Following an outcry, raw beef liver was eventually banned.
Local health center inspections nationwide found about 80 restaurants that served raw pork liver in 2012.
That jumped to 190 in 2013. Despite the known health risks of eating raw pork, its sale was not regulated because, a ministry official said, not many restaurants served raw meat or organs.
Before the new regulation took effect Friday, the health ministry warned restaurants not to serve raw pork meat, although the warnings had no binding legal power.
Under the new rule, however, restaurants that serve raw pork or organs face a two-year prison term or ¥2 million fine.
Some of the customers in Oimachi said they don’t really understand why the meat was banned.
Komukai questioned why it is legal to eat other raw foods like oysters and other fish that could cause food poisoning and demanded clearer government standards.
The health ministry says raw pork meat might carry the hepatitis E virus, which can impair liver function and lead to death.
A 36-year-old man from Yokohama said that he likes eating raw meat, but if a certain kind of sashimi is found to be truly dangerous, it should be banned.
He also wondered if there was some way to create a regulatory structure to safely provide for the serving of meat sashimi.
Restaurants that served raw pork liver said the ban was not good news for management but understandable, given that the goal is prevent consumers from being harmed by a food that poses an unusually high risk of illness.
Sato of Aji no Isohei said he hopes the government will somehow find a way to let restaurants safely provide the item again, such as by innovating new breeding or distribution techniques to protect pigs from viruses.
An employee at another Tokyo pub, which did not want to be named, said pork liver sashimi was a favorite with regulars and that about 30 percent of its customers order it.
“I’m not sure how it will affect us, or if those people will come back without the sashimi around,” the employee said.
Meanwhile, he said the ban is understandable to a certain degree if raw pork meat poses high health risks.
He said his restaurant prepared raw liver very carefully and never had a problem with food poisoning, but “if a health inspector comes and says, ‘Your store has been just lucky not to have any issues, but you never know if your store will remain that way,’ I would have to agree,” he said.