Updated: Gerry Ritz heads to Alberta after E. coli outbreak

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz is scheduled to visit Alberta Tuesday for the first time since an E. coli bacteria found at a meat-processing plant in Brooks, Alta. prompted the largest beef recall in Canadian history and made at least 10 people sick.

According to the Canadian Press, it is likely that Ritz will use the visit to the Calgary Canadian Food Inspection Agency lab to reassure the public that the federal government is working to improve food safety after more than 1,500 beef products have been recalled in both Canada and the U.S.

Ritz’s visit comes the day after an Edmonton man launched a class-action lawsuit against XL Foods, the company that owns the plant where the contamination occurred.

Matthew Harrison filed the lawsuit Tuesday, and told CBC News Edmonton that he was in the hospital for five days after eating a steak that he purchased at Costco, which came from the XL Foods plant.

“I missed a week of work,” the Edmonton real estate agent said. “I can only work four or five hours now, or I start to get kind of dizzy. You know, I didn’t eat for four or five days, and my body just hasn’t recuperated from that.”

Meanwhile, beef producers in southern Alberta, where the XL Foods plant remains closed, are worried about lower beef prices and decreased consumer confidence as a result of the recall, reports the Lethbridge Herald.

For the record, here’s a statement released by Ritz after the press conference:

Canadian consumers and their families have always been and will continue to be the Government of Canada’s first priority when it comes to food safety.
Our Government and all Canadians expect a strong food safety system. That’s why our Government is doing its part.
Our Government continues to provide the Canadian Food Inspection Agency with the resources it needs to help safeguard the health and safety of Canadians and their families.
Since 2006, our Government has provided significant funding to improve our food safety system.
Our Government has provided the resources to hire more than seven hundred additional inspectors, which includes one hundred and seventy meat inspectors.
This Government immediately accepted all fifty seven recommendations of the Weatherill Report and it’s why we have acted on all of them.
That’s why we will continue to make sure that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has the resources it needs to do its important job of protecting Canadians and their families. It’s why our Government introduced the Safe Food for Canadians Act last spring.
It’s why I remain in constant contact with the leadership of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to ensure they are fulfilling their responsibilities.
And it’s why I went to the XL Foods plant this morning.
I want to personally ensure that everyone – from the executive in Ottawa to the in-depth review team in Brooks – understand that the health and safety of Canadians is our first priority.
I saw first hand that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has a full contingent of inspectors and staff – sampling, testing and examining all product and procedures in the plant.
In fact, the CFIA has deployed additional resources to the plant to ensure Canadian consumers and their families are protected.
While we understand that ranchers, farmers and industry need a strong processing sector, we all agree that the success of the industry must be founded on food safety.
That is why the XL Foods plant will only resume operation when the President of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has confirmed in writing to me that the health of Canadians is not at risk.
We will continue to improve the food inspection system through the Safe Food for Canadians Act.
I hope that those in the House of Commons will pass the Safe Foods for Canadians Act expeditiously so that the food safety system is stronger.
Canadians can be assured that the Canadian Government will continue to be the chief defender of consumer health.
I want to assure Canadians that as Minister, I continue to be in constant contact with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to make sure they are doing everything in their power to protect Canadian consumers and their families.
Canadian consumers are and will continue to be our first priority.

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