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177 infected in E. Coli outbreak linked to ground beef, CDC says

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a food safety alert linking an increasing number of E. Coli infections to ground beef. So far, 177 people reported across 10 states have been infected since the beginning of March, the CDC says. 

Of those 177, 21 people have been hospitalized, the agency said Friday. No deaths have been reported. 

Two companies recalled their ground beef products this week due to possible E. Coli contamination, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Safety Inspection Service said. Grant Park Packing in Franklin Park, Illinois, has recalled approximately 53,200 pounds of raw ground beef products and K2D Foods in Carrollton, Georgia, has recalled approximately 113,424 pounds of raw ground beef products. 

No single supplier, distributor or brand of beef has been directly connected to the outbreak. 

"Ill people in this outbreak ate ground beef from many sources," the CDC said Friday. "Investigators continue to trace other sources for ground beef, and more product contaminated with E. coli O103 may be recalled."  

Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia have seen the most cases, followed by Ohio, Florida and Virginia. Indiana, Illinois, Mississippi and Minnesota have also been affected. "States are investigating additional illnesses that might be a part of this outbreak," the CDC said. 

E. coli bacteria, which is often present in animals' digestive tracts, can contaminate many different kinds of foods. Over the past year, E. coli prompted widespread recalls of romaine lettuce, but that outbreak was declared over in January. Previous outbreaks have involved products ranging from ground beef to spinach to alfalfa sprouts and even flour.

A recent report by the watchdog Public Interest Research Group found that U.S. food recalls increased 10 percent from 2013 to 2018.

The CDC recommends the following steps to reduce the risk of E. coli infections:

  • Wash hands frequently, especially after using the restroom or changing diapers, before and after preparing or eating food, and after contact with animals.
  • Cook meats thoroughly to kill harmful germs. Steaks and roasts should be cooked to at least 145˚F. Let rest for 3 minutes after you remove meat from the grill or stove. Cook ground beef and pork to at least 160˚F. Use a food thermometer to check the temperature of the meat.
  • Don't cross-contaminate food preparation areas by thoroughly washing hands, counters, cutting boards, and utensils after they touch raw meat.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before eating, unless the package says the contents have been washed.
  • Avoid raw milk, other unpasteurized dairy products, and unpasteurized juices.
  • Don't prepare food or drink for others when you are sick.
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