Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz has apologized for making "tasteless" remarks about the listeriosis crisis that killed 17 people, but the NDP and Liberals say he should resign.

"My comments were inappropriate and callous," Ritz told reporters late Wednesday night. "I take responsibility and I apologize without reservation."

During a conference call with scientists, bureaucrats and political staff on Aug. 30, Ritz made several off-colour jokes about the outbreak.

After fretting about the political dangers of the Listeria scare, Ritz quipped: "This is like a death by a thousand cuts. Or should I say cold cuts."

Then when told of a death in Prince Edward Island, Ritz said, "Please tell me it's (Liberal MP) Wayne Easter."

Easter is the Liberal agriculture critic and has called for Ritz's resignation over his handling of the outbreak, which was linked to a Maple Leaf Foods meat processing plant north of Toronto.

"I phoned Mr. Easter earlier today and apologized," Ritz said late Wednesday. "He accepted my apology and I thank him for that. Most importantly, I want to offer my most humble and heartfelt regrets to the families of those affected by this tragedy. I did not intend to add to their suffering and I very deeply apologize for that."

Kory Teneycke, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister's Office, said Ritz expressed regret over his remarks to Stephen Harper but there was no suggestion of resigning.

"A resignation was not offered, nor was one asked for," he said.

Karen Clark's mother, Frances Clark, was the first identified Listeria victim in Canada and passed away Aug. 25, five days before Ritz's comments.

Clark told CTV Newsnet Wednesday evening that she found Ritz's comments "hurtful ... to any family that has lost a loved one due to the (outbreak)."

Easter said that he didn't take the comments personally but slammed Ritz's "insensitivity" to those who lost family to listeriosis. He said the comments were just one more reason Ritz needs to be dismissed.

"I spoke with Minister Ritz earlier this evening ... and he did apologize to me for the comments," Easter told CTV News.

Ritz had apologized for the comments earlier Wednesday in front of a handful of reporters, but left before camera crews arrived.

NDP Leader Jack Layton spoke out about Ritz's comments on CTV's Mike Duffy Live.

"Canadians are dying because of the mismanagement of our government . . . there should absolutely never be that kind of humour," he said.

"It illustrates the government is not taking this matter as seriously as they should."

A spokesperson for Conservative leader Stephen Harper released a statement saying the Ritz comments were tasteless and completely inappropriate.

With files from The Canadian Press