05/17/2013 12:35 EDT | Updated 07/17/2013 05:12 EDT

Tenderized beef to get new safe-cooking labels

Federally registered meat plants will be required to put new labels on mechanically tenderized beef in order to make it safer for consumers, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says.

Speaking in Saskatoon Friday, Ritz said the new rules for tenderized beef, expected to go into effect over the next two months, is part of a wide-ranging food safety action plan.

The government wants consumers to know that mechanically tenderized beef — such as steaks and roasts — needs to be thoroughly cooked to eliminate any risk of E. coli.

In addition to federally registered meat plants, supermarkets are also being encouraged to use warning labels.

There's a heightened risk because the needles in tenderizing equipment can push E. coli into the interior of the meat. Such meat has to be thoroughly cooked to kill the microbes.

Last fall, at least 16 Canadians became ill from E. coli, sparking a massive recall of beef that came from from an XL Foods meat plant in Brooks, Alta.

- CBC's Marketplace looks at the risks around mechanical tenderizing of meat

Mechanical tenderizing was done at the XL plant, raising concerns at the time that stricter rules were required. However, an inquiry into the plant situation did not find that tenderizing was specifically a cause of the E. coli outbreak.

Ritz said the changes will help, but he can't guarantee large-scale recalls will not happen again.

"Certainly no one wants to see a repeat of the major recalls we've seen in this country," he said.

"Can we guarantee there'll never be any more? No. Anybody who tells you you can is lying to you."

Ritz made his announcement in a Saskatoon grocery store, accompanied by officials from Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency who deal with meat safety and microbial hazards.

He said CFIA is strengthening some of its beef safety rules, and has put in new mandatory rules to fight E. coli problems in federally registered beef plants.