TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan, the home of raw fish, has banned the serving of raw liver after a series of food poisoning cases last year in which five people died and 24 became seriously ill after consuming the dish at a major restaurant chain.
The dish, raw beef liver cut into bite-sized chunks and served with onions and sauce, was taken off restaurant menus indefinitely from July 1 by Japan's Health Ministry.
"When you actually cook liver it's a bit rough, but raw it's very easy to eat," said Yoshiko Miki, a 38-year-old who rushed to Kintan, a downtown Tokyo restaurant that specialized in the dish, before the ban came into effect.
"Especially the liver here is very nice and delicious. So when I think about the fact that I can't eat it anymore, it's quite sad."
Food analyst Chiharu Saito, a member of the Japan Food Analyst Association, said there were a number of well-liked raw meat items on sale, but beef liver was the most popular.
"In terms of what has the most chance of causing food poisoning, I believe that's why they chose to ban beef liver," she said.
"It can be a star product for restaurants, and if they are suddenly unable to sell that then it will indeed affect sales and profits."
Yuichi Kamata, management chief at Edge, the company that oversees the Kintan restaurant chain, said that probably 90 percent of customers had been coming specifically to eat raw liver, with a plate going for around 1,800 yen ($23).
But despite the ban, it's still far too early to count out the restaurant chain - or its star product. Kintan said it was looking into developing new products to circumvent the ban, including one in which the liver is partly cooked.
Reporting by Chris Meyers; Editing by Elaine Lies and Eric Meijer