OTTAWA - It will cost taxpayers up to $3,500 a day, plus expenses, for a panel to review the E. coli outbreak at an Alberta meat plant last fall.

The federal government last week opened a review of the circumstances in which the potentially deadly bacteria was found in the XL Foods Inc. plant in Brooks, Alta.

The review will be conducted by an independent, three-member panel.

A cabinet order dated Feb. 5 shows that Ronald Lewis, the former chief veterinary officer for British Columbia, will be paid up to $1,300 a day to chair the panel.

The two other members, Northwest Territories chief public health officer Andre Corriveau and Ronald Usborne, a former executive with Caravelle Foods, will each be paid up to $1,100 per day.

Other expenses, including travel, accommodation and hiring expert staff will add to the overall bill.

The review is to focus on what contributed to the outbreak at XL Foods, how well the Canadian Food Inspection Agency responded and why tainted meat ended up on store shelves and in peoples' kitchens.

Neither Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, nor his department, would answer questions about whether the cost of the panel is in line with other similar reviews conducted previously.

Instead, Ritz offered that "safe food for Canadian consumers is our first priority."

"This review is part of our ongoing commitment to ensure that Canadians continue to have one of the safest food safety systems in the world," Ritz said in an emailed statement.

"We look forward to receiving the report and we will review its recommendations."

The panel has a mandate to review the XL Foods recall until May 3.

Earlier on HuffPost:

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  • While most strains of E. coli are harmless, the Public Health Agency Of Canada warns that some strains including E. coli O157: H7, can make people sick, and in serious complications can include kidney failure.

  • Symptoms include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and fever that is generally less than 38.5˚C/101˚F and tend to last for five to seven days.

  • High risk individuals include the very young, elderly, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems.

  • Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can be fatal, can develop in around 5 to 10 per cent of those who get sick from E. coli O157:H7 overall and about 15 per cent of young children and the elderly. Symptoms of HUS vary. Some people have seizures or strokes and some need blood transfusions and kidney dialysis. Others live with side effects such as permanent kidney damage.

  • Proper hygiene including hand washing and safe food handling and preparation practices are recommended to prevent the illness.

  • While E. coli is generally associated with ground meat, Alberta Health Services warns that the bacteria can also be found in foods including poultry, pork, cheese, sprouts, lettuce, yogurt, and unpasteurized milk and fruit juices and advises Albertans to take precaution.