Ground beef may be the source of E. coli outbreak that has sickened 54 people in Kentucky

Ground beef may be the source of an E. coli outbreak that has sickened 109 people, including 54 in Kentucky, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

The CDC said it is unclear where the ground beef came from, but it is continuing to investigate.

People who became sick with E. coli strain O103 reported eating ground beef at home and in restaurants.

The CDC said people who have been questioned about their exposure said they had eaten ground beef from “several different grocery stores and restaurants. Many ill people bought large trays or chubs of ground beef from grocery stores and used the meat to make dishes like spaghetti sauce and sloppy joe.”

The outbreak was first publicly reported in late March, when state health officials said the people they were seeing with E. coli were “typically young (teenagers and children), often with histories of extensive fast food exposure.”

While half of those sickened were in Kentucky, other cases have been reported in Tennessee, Georgia, Ohio, Virginia and Indiana.

Seventeen people have been hospitalized as a result of the outbreak, but no deaths and no cases of kidney failure as a result of hemolytic uremic syndrome have been reported.

The CDC said Friday that it is not recommending that people stop eating ground beef, only that people should be sure to practice safe handling and to cook their meat thoroughly.

That includes washing hands with soap and water immediately after touching raw meat, thoroughly washing anything that has been in contact with raw meat and cooking ground beef to an internal temperature of 160 degrees.

Escherichia coli O103 produces Shiga toxin and causes people to become sick three to four days after swallowing the germ. Symptoms usually last five to seven days and can include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting.

“This is a rapidly evolving investigation,” the CDC said. “We will provide updates as more information becomes available.”