Ground beef. Ground beef may contain E. coli.

Update June 21, 2019: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared this outbreak over. In total 209 people became ill with an E. coli infection and 29 were hospitalized. There were no deaths. According to the agency, people who were affected ate ground beef from many sources and no common supplier, distributor, or brand was identified. If you have any of the recalled beef in your freezer, you should not use it.

An ongoing outbreak of foodborne infections with E. coli O103, which has been linked to ground beef, has now sickened 196 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The illnesses have occurred in 10 states: Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, and Virginia.

The outbreak was first announced in early April, with 72 people sickened in five states.

People who have become ill reported eating ground beef in restaurants as well as ground beef bought it at grocery stores. Many of them said they bought large packages (called chubs) of ground beef and used it to make dishes such as spaghetti sauce and sloppy joes.

On April 23 and 24, the Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service announced ground beef recalls from two companies that sold meat to restaurants and institutions because it may have been contaminated with E. coli O103. A total of 176,624 pounds of the meat were recalled

But at this time, the CDC says that it has not identified a common supplier, distributor, or brand of ground beef that could explain the whole outbreak. Some of the people who became ill reported eating at a restaurant where investigators found a strain of the bacteria closely related to the outbreak strain in unopened packages of ground beef from K2D Foods, one of the two companies named. But the strain of E. coli found in samples of the beef from the other company—Grant Park Packing—was not closely related, according to the FSIS. 

More on Food Safety

Consumer Reports’ food safety experts stress the importance of proper handling and cooking of the meat. “Toxin-producing strains of bacteria like E. coli O103 are virulent,” says James E. Rogers, Ph.D., director of food safety and testing at Consumer Reports. “You don’t have to eat a lot of the bacteria to get sick.”

In this outbreak, 28 people have been hospitalized and two people have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a serious condition that can lead to kidney failure and death.

Cooking ground beef to an internal temperature of 160° F will kill the bacteria, but you also have to make sure that you handle raw ground beef carefully. “There are a lot of opportunities for cross contamination,” Rogers says. “For example, let’s say you buy a large package of ground beef and split it into smaller packages when you get home, and that meat contains the kind of bacteria that can make you sick. You reach for the faucet to wash your hands. Washing removes the bacteria, but when you shut off the faucet, you may recontaminate your hands. Then anything that you touch can become contaminated. It’s pretty easy to spread the bacteria around.”

In addition to properly cooking ground beef, follow these food safety steps:

• Always thaw ground beef (and any meat) in the refrigerator, not on the counter.

• Wash your hands and any kitchen equipment you used after handling raw meat with warm soapy water. Be careful not to touch the faucet with dirty hands. Use your elbow or a paper towel to turn it on. Be sure to wipe countertops down, too.  

• Put cooked leftovers in the fridge or freezer within 2 hours. If you’re making sauce or another dish with ground beef, don’t let it cool too long on the counter before putting it into containers and refrigerating or freezing.