OSAKA--"Fugu," Japanese puffer fish, has a poisonous reputation and deservedly so.

Now, poison-free fugu fillets that are safe to eat are widely available.

Osaka Prefecture has eased regulations on sales of the potentially deadly fish in the hope of expanding sales in the part of Japan with the highest consumption of fugu in the nation.

The fish contains a powerful nerve toxin, tetrodotoxin, mainly in the liver and ovaries, which is said to be 1,000 times more deadly than potassium cyanide.

But as long as fugu is prepared properly by licensed chefs, it is as safe as houses to eat.

These days, many fugu restaurants and retailers procure only “migaki fugu” that has had all the poisonous bits removed, rather than having in-house licensed chefs perform the task themselves.

As a result, restrictions on such operators have been relaxed considerably.

In Osaka Prefecture, regulations governing fugu restaurants and operators are eased if they use only migaki fugu to serve raw as "tessa" and in fugu nabe "tecchiri" hot pot dishes. The measure has been in effect since April 1.

The health ministry regulates what parts of fugu are edible, depending on the variety being served and sold, while the Food Sanitation Law prohibits the sale of other parts.

In addition, prefectural governments have their own regulations to ensure that the delicacy can be savored without risk.

Until the end of March, the Osaka prefectural ordinance obligated restaurants and retailers using only migaki fugu to employ a qualified supervisor and have permission from the governor to operate.

An ordinance passed by the prefectural assembly last November allows restaurants and retailers to serve and sell fugu without restrictions as long as it is of the migaki fugu variety and they have notified a local public health center.

Osaka Prefecture is said to account for 60 percent of fugu consumption in Japan. The prefectural government's more relaxed approach to the fugu industry, which is intended to expand demand, followed the new policy adopted by other local authorities.

The Tokyo metropolitan government lifted its regulations in 2012, thereby allowing restaurants and retailers who purchase only migaki fugu to serve the cuisine and sell products so long as they have notified a local public health center.

In half of the country’s prefectures, fugu restaurants and retailers no longer need to obtain permission to operate as they serve only migaki fugu, according to Osaka prefectural authorities.

The last death attributed to fugu poisoning in Osaka Prefecture occurred in 1990 when an individual cooked and ate the fish at home.

“The way fugu is prepared without the toxic parts is so much safer these days,” said a prefectural official, adding that the regulations “had been far behind the times,” given that migaki fugu is now so widely available.

“(This deregulation) is a huge boon to the fugu industry,” said Kazuo Hata, 64, president of Minami, a fugu shop in the city’s Chuo Ward. “Now, more people can eat fugu.”

The recent changes reflect a transition in fugu distribution methods. In the past, a specialized restaurant would purchase the entire fish and bear responsibility for removing all the toxic parts, hence the requirement for licensed chefs. But increasingly, restaurants and retailers are purchasing already prepared poison-free migaki fugu to serve to customers.

“Historically, Osaka Bay and surrounding waters provided huge fugu catches. The somewhat bland taste of the fish was palatable for people in Kyoto and Osaka,” said Kiichi Kitahama, 89, the second-generation owner of Kitahachi, a fugu restaurant established in 1913 in Kishiwada, Osaka Prefecture. “That is why fugu became so popular in Osaka.”