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By Reuters

A total of 156 people in 10 states have been infected with E. coli after eating contaminated ground beef at home and in restaurants since the beginning of March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

No deaths have been reported but 20 people have been hospitalized after they were infected with the strain E. coli O103 since March 1, the CDC said on its website.

Investigations are ongoing to determine the source of raw ground beef supplied to grocery stores and restaurant locations where ill people reported eating.

"No common supplier, distributor, or brand of ground beef has been identified," the CDC said.

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The investigation began on March 28, when officials in Kentucky and Georgia notified the CDC of the outbreak. Since then, some 65 cases have been reported in Kentucky, 41 in Tennessee and another 33 in Georgia.

E. coli cases have also been reported in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio and Virginia.

The CDC said that illnesses after March 26 may not have been reported yet because the lead time is two to three weeks.

Many of the infected people had bought large trays or chubs of ground beef from grocery stores and used the meat to make dishes like spaghetti sauce and Sloppy Joes, the agency said.

The CDC is not recommending people stop eating ground beef, but is reminding the public of basic food safety rules. Those include:

  • Cooking ground beef to an internal temperature of 160 degrees.
  • Keeping raw meat separate from other foods that won't be cooked.

It's also important to wash cutting boards, counter tops and utensils that touch raw meat with soapy water or a bleach solution to remove the germs. Finally, always wash hands with soap and water after handling raw meat.

People usually show symptoms of E.coli infection about 3-4 days after eating tainted food, according to the CDC. Symptoms include stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea and vomiting. Most people recover in a week, howeve some may develop a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can be fatal. There have been no cases of kidney failure yet associated with this outbreak, the CDC said.