Japan food scandal widens: Daimaru, Isetan admit lying about food quality

TOKYO - Japan's menu-mislabelling scandal continues to widen as even more well-known or well- established names come forward.

Daimaru and Isetan became the latest to admit to making false claims about food quality after Takashimaya did so early this week.

The luxury hotel chain Okura, whose foreign VIPs included the United States President, also said it had lied about food quality at its swanky restaurants.

Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings, the country's largest department store operator, said on Wednesday that ingredients cheaper than those displayed in the menu were used in 52 dishes at 14 restaurants in its Isetan and Mitsukoshi stores, Asahi Shimbun reported.

More than 200,000 of these dishes have been served since 1996, company officials said.

For instance, the restaurants used low-priced white leg shrimp although the menus showed more expensive varieties. The company also admitted to using beef injected with beef fat for a menu item listed as "steak", Asahi said.

Department store chain Daimaru Matsuzakaya said some of its restaurants labelled previously frozen food as "fresh", and used South Korean chestnuts in sweets that promised they were of French origin.

As for the Okura chain, its 13 hotels, including its iconic Tokyo property, also served shrimp dishes made with ingredients falsely labelled as being of top-end quality. Some had also injected beef with fat to make it juicier, it said.

"We deeply apologise for betraying the expectations and confidence of our clients," the company said in a statement.

A number of major hotel chains, including Hankyu Hanshin Hotels which operates the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Osaka, have also admitted their restaurants, for a long time, falsely labelled food on their menus. A traditional ryokan-style hotel in the ancient capital of Nara confessed that it passed off Australian beef as more expensive "wagyu".

The latest admissions came as Japan's hotels, restaurants and food shops are being warned by government officials over the dishonesty, amid a growing scandal that is threatening to undermine the country's reputation for safe, high-quality produce.

Takashimaya has said that it falsely claimed for years it was selling top-of-the-range prawns or freshly squeezed orange juice.

It used black tiger shrimp to make a "Japanese tiger prawn" terrine, sold under the luxury French brand Fauchon.

Japanese tiger prawn costs twice or three times as much as black tiger shrimp on the market, Asahi reported.

Hotel New Grand, one of the best-known hotels in Yokohama, also said on Wednesday that it mislabelled dishes at its bar, Asahi said. A shrimp cocktail did not use the menu's Shiba shrimp, while orange juice processed and refrigerated in the United States was served as fresh juice.

The bayside hotel, founded in 1927, is the place where US General Douglas MacArthur had stayed immediately after World War II.

Consumer groups said the scandal has exposed a business culture that places priority on profits at the expense of credibility.

"They sat back, waited for customers and cashed in on the trend of consumers preferring quality items even at higher prices," Ms Mariko Sano, who heads the secretariat of Shufuren, the confederation of homemaker associations, was quoted by Asahi as saying.