JAPAN - The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry has begun considering setting standards for aging beef, a practice that has sparked an ongoing red meat boom.
While the number of restaurants offering aged beef, prized for its deep flavor, has been rapidly increasing, the levels of quality and hygiene control differ among restaurants.
By setting certain public standards, the ministry aims to provide reassurance to consumers and help the trend flourish.
The ministry is considering standardizing the process of dry aging, which originated in the United States. In this method, beef is aged for several weeks by being hung in a cool, well-ventilated area with high humidity to slowly evaporate water from the meat.
In doing so, the beef is tenderized by microbes and enzymes and is said to give off a nutty aroma. Dry aging is one of the most popular methods for aging beef.
The ministry plans to add dry aging to the scope of the Japanese Agricultural Standards (JAS) and establish standards for production methods and the conditions of a completed product. An expert panel will consider details of the standards and will decide them in fiscal 2016 or later.
It requires great time and effort to age beef, making it an expensive type of meat. In Japan, aged beef began gaining popularity for use as steak and in other dishes about three years ago, and now a wide variety of enterprises have begun aging their beef.
The Japan Dry Aging Beef Promotion Board, a voluntary organisation comprising restaurant operators and others, has set its own standards for aging beef, such as manufacturing processes and quality, and promotes skills qualifications for manufacturers and dealers.
"We are confident not only in the taste, but also the safety," said Yoshiharu Sano, the president of Sanoman, a meat sales company in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka Prefecture, that was authorised by the board.
Meanwhile, as microbes are used to age the meat, there is concern that "if the meat is not appropriately maintained, the risk of the meat going bad will increase," an official at the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said.
Some restaurants reportedly offer low-quality meat that they aged themselves, passing it off as properly aged meat.
Concerning the ministry's planned standardization, a restaurant industry source said, "It will help eliminate poor-quality meat, and the quality gap will close."