Would you like E. coli with that Saeng-go-gi (it’s raw beef)

This study investigated the bacterial contamination levels in ready-to-eat fresh raw beef, Saeng-go-gi in Korean, sold in restaurants.

Saeng-go-giA total of 462 samples were analyzed by performing an aerobic bacterial plate count, a coliform count, and an Escherichia coli O157:H7 count. Aerobic bacterial plate counts of fresh raw beef obtained from Seoul, Cheonan, Daegu, Gunsan, and Gwangju retail store restaurants were 6.46, 6.89, 6.39, 6.58, and 6.67 log CFU/g, respectively, and coliforms were 4.05, 4.97, 4.76, 3.62, and 3.32 log CFU/g, respectively.

Among the 462 assessed samples, suspected E. coli O157:H7 colonies were found in 32, 24, 20, 22, and 16 samples obtained from Seoul, Cheonan, Daegu, Gunsan, and Gwangju, respectively. The identity of these isolated colonies was further assessed by using a latex agglutination kit. The agglutination assay data showed that the isolates were not E. coli O157:H7.

The data from this study could be used to design better food handling practices for reducing foodborne illnesses linked to fresh raw beef consumption.

Bacterial contamination in Saeng-go-gi, a ready-to-eat fresh raw beef dish sold in restaurants in South Korea


Journal of Food Protection®, Number 3, March 2015, pp. 484-627, pp. 619-623(5)

Park, Myoung Su; Moon, Jin San; Todd, Ewen C. D.; Bahk, Gyung Jin


In Japan, food poisoning cases haven’t cut appetite for ‘yakiniku’ raw meat cuts

In May, 2011, five people were killed – including two children — and over 180 sickened with E. coli O111 after eating raw beef dishes at restaurants in Japan.

After initially blaming the Australian supplier, Yasuhiro Kanzaka, president of Foods Forus Co., which runs the Yakiniku-zakaya Ebisu chain, said the company had not conducted microbial tests at any of its outlets since July 2009, adding, "We’d never had a positive result [from a bacteria test], not once. So we assumed our meat would always be bacteria-free.”

The Japanese health ministry subsequently stated it planed to begin imposing new penalties for food safety violations as early as October, as current guidelines were nonbinding.

The agriculture ministry urged restaurants to ensure the trimming of all raw meat and to remind customers of the higher risks of food poisoning for children and the elderly.

It’s now December, and according to a report released last week, 59 of the 4,490 restaurants and meat suppliers inspected were providing raw beef cuts, including "yukke," to customers, despite new regulations requiring beef to be heated for at least two minutes in 60-degree water. Restaurants were also required to set up special sanitized workspaces to prevent bacterial infections.

The Tokyo metropolitan government report also revealed that none of the 59 locations serving the shredded raw meat met the new food safety standards issued in October.

"We have ordered the facilities that do not meet the standards to stop providing the dishes, and all of them have discontinued providing raw meat at this point," the metropolitan government said.

While the crackdown in Tokyo has ostensibly stopped yakiniku restaurants from serving yukke, some claim the strict regulation has only led restaurants to serve the dish under the table.

Although violations of the new safety rule can result in a fine of 2 million Yen or imprisonment of up to two years, the metropolitan government has only ordered the restaurants to stop providing raw meat.

Which is as effective as me telling my 3-year-old, “no” or “don’t do that.”

Food safety disasters nothing new in Japan

In June 1996, initial reports of an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 in Japan surfaced in national media.

By July 1996, focus had centered on specific school cafeterias and two vendors of box lunches, as the number of illnesses approached 4,000. Lunches of sea eel sushi and soup distributed on July 5 from Sakai’s central school lunch depot were identified by health authorities as a possible source of one outbreak. The next day, the number of illnesses had increased to 7,400 even as reports of Japanese fastidiousness intensified. By July 23, 1996, 8,500 were listed as ill.

Even though radish sprouts were ultimately implicated — and then publicly cleared in a fall-on-sword ceremony, but not by the U.S. — the Health and Welfare Ministry announced that Japan’s 333 slaughterhouses must adopt a quality control program modeled on U.S. safety procedures, requiring companies to keep records so the source of any tainted food could be quickly identified. Kunio Morita, chief of the ministry’s veterinary sanitation division was quoted as saying "It’s high time for Japan to follow the international trend in sanitation management standards."

Japanese health authorities were terribly slow to respond to the outbreak of E. coli O157:H7, a standard facilitated by a journalistic culture of aversion rather than adversarial. In all, over 9,500 Japanese, largely schoolchildren, were stricken with E. coli O157:H7 and 12 were killed over the summer of 1996, raising questions of political accountability.

The national Mainichi newspaper demanded in an editorial on July 31, 1996, "Why can’t the government learn from past experience? Why were they slow to react to the outbreak? Why can’t they take broader measures?" The answer, it said, was a "chronic ailment" — the absence of anyone in the government to take charge in a crisis and ensure a coordinated response. An editorial cartoon in the daily Asahi Evening News showed a health worker wearing the label "government emergency response" riding to the rescue on a snail. Some of the victims filed lawsuits against Japanese authorities, a move previously unheard of in the Japanese culture of deference.

Fifteen years later, with at least four dead and 100 sick from E. coli O111 served in raw beef at the Yakiniku-zakaya Ebisu barbecue restaurant chain, Japanese corporate, political and media leaders are still struggling.

Under Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry guidelines, only meat that meets strict standards–such as being processed on equipment exclusively for handling meat for raw consumption and in a meticulously hygienic environment–can be shipped to be eaten raw.

However, the decision on what meat can be served raw is left up to the restaurant serving it. The wholesaler who sold the beef in question to the Yakiniku-zakaya Ebisu chain reportedly told a public health center that the meat it shipped "was supposed to be eaten after being cooked."

The sanitation guidelines have no binding power and have largely been ignored. The health ministry, for its part, has long failed to stringently push industries to comply with the sanitation standards.

To ensure people can eat raw meat without fearing for their health, the government must review the regulations for the entire meat preparation process.

Anrakutei Co., a Saitama-based yakiniku barbecue chain, stopped serving yukke at its 250 outlets, mainly in the Kanto region, on Tuesday.

"We’ve been providing the dish to customers based on strict quality control, but customers’ concerns make it difficult to continue to serve it," a public relations official of the company said.

Anrakutei said the company conducts bacteria tests on the Australian beef it uses for yukke three times–first before it is purchased, again before it is sent to the company’s meat processing plant and finally before it is shipped to outlets. At the plant, the meat is processed separately from other food materials to prevent it from coming into contact with bacteria, the company explained.

There is no discussion of what is being tested, and how valid those tests are at picking up a non-O157 shiga-toxin producing E. coli like O111 There is no verification that anyone is testing anything.

In the absence of meat goggles that can magically detect dangerous bacteria, eating raw hamburger remains a risk.

Cross-contamination at checkout

Katie and I were craving hamburgers this weekend and Doug decided to indulge us. At the supermarket on Saturday he picked up some ground beef along with our normal cart full of produce and other proteins. As usual, I tried to separate the items in the cart so that the fresh produce was not touching the beef, pork, or salmon filets, even though all the meat was wrapped.

Checkout on Saturdays is always busy, and with a baby, a shopper’s plus card, a payment method, eco-friendly shopping bags, and chatter with the cashiers and baggers, there are plenty of distractions. On this particular day, the new store manager was bagging our items and complementing Doug on his culinary ability: “I can see you must be a good cook because those items require skill.” I chimed in with full-hearted agreement. Doug’s an awesome cook.

In the meantime, as the hamburger was being passed over the scale and scanner, juice poured out all over the place. I watched the cashier and was about to say something, but she pulled out a sanitary wipe and cleaned her hands. She then proceeded to pass every one of our produce items over the scale and through the hamburger juice. I felt like I should say something but wanted Doug to be the bad ass. And as I stood there stunned, not wanting the store manager to fire the woman, she completed our transaction and was on to the next person.

As soon as we exited the store, I declared we would have to wash every piece of produce in the bags. It didn’t even occur to me until later that the following person’s items were also going to pass over that potentially E.coli-laden scale. And maybe the same thing had already happened five times before we arrived. Maybe we were already at risk before our hamburger leaked all over.

It’s important to wash fresh fruits and vegetables to remove external contamination, because you never know where it’s been. Once your produce is exposed, it can contaminate other items in your bag or at home. Even if you are a careful consumer, it’s difficult to know just where that tomato has been.

(P.S. Doug cooked the burgers to a perfect 160F and they were delicious.)