10/26/2012 06:39 EDT | Updated 12/26/2012 05:12 EST

Ritz Questioned About Labels For Tenderized Beef

Canada's agriculture minister is weighing in on the heightened E. coli risk in mechanically tenderized meat and what options are being explored.

In Regina on Friday, reporters continued to ask Gerry Ritz about the E. coli outbreak at the XL Foods plant in Alberta, which was the largest of its kind in years and resulted in the temporary closure of the plant. Reporters also asked him about the health risks of tenderized beef and about labelling.

Four people in Edmonton got sick after eating tenderized steaks that were purchased at Costco, but originally came from the XL plant.

Health Canada says that when E. coli is on a steak or a roast, it's typically on the surface and is killed when cooked, even at a "rare" setting.

However, the department also says the mechanical process to tenderize steaks and roasts can drive E. coli from the surface of meat to the centre.

The means greater precaution must be taken, Ritz said.

"When it's needled in or pressed into the meat and you cook it to medium-rare ... you don't kill it, you don't get to the temperature that you need," he said.

He noted that health officials in the United States and Canada are looking at better labeling to inform consumers that medium-rare won't be enough.

"There's talk about making sure that people understand that if you're buying this tenderized product ... it should be labelled to warn you to cook it beyond the temperature that should be required [for non-tenderized meat]."

Health Canada said last week it's doing a scientific review on meat tenderizing, but in the meantime, it wants people to cook tenderized cuts to an internal temperature of 71 degrees C. (160 degrees F.).

The department said it's working with the retail and restaurant industry to identify tenderized beef through labels, signs or other means.

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