You may want to think twice before ordering a hamburger tonight.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are currently investigating an E. coli outbreak related to ground beef — nearly 167,000 pounds of the meat have been recalled so far.
More than 175 people have been infected with E. coli O103 across 10 states, with the highest numbers in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia. You can see an up-to-date list of cases by state on the CDC website. So far, more than 20 people have been hospitalized.
People who have gotten sick reported eating beef at home as well as in restaurants. Many of them said they purchased large trays or chubs of the meat from a grocery store and used it to make things like spaghetti sauce or sloppy joes. (If not cooked through properly, E. coli can survive the food-prep process).
While the investigation into the main source is still ongoing, two companies have voluntarily recalled ground-beef products that were sold to restaurants and institutions. The CDC has advised restaurants, retailers, and other institutions not to sell or serve meat from:
- Grant Park Packing in Franklin Park, Illinois. The company recalled 53,200 pounds of raw ground-beef products on April 24, 2019. The products that were recalled had been sold in 40-pound bulk cardboard boxes of “North Star Imports & Sales, LLC. 100% GROUND BEEF BULK 80% LEAN/ 20% FAT” marked “FOR INSTITUTIONAL USE ONLY” with lot code GP.1051.18 and pack dates 10/30/2018, 10/31/2018, and 11/01/2018.
- K2D Foods, doing business as Colorado Premium Foods, in Carrollton, Georgia. It’s recalled 113,424 pounds of raw meat on April 23, 2019. These had been sold in two 24-pound vacuum-packed packages in cardboard boxes containing raw “GROUND BEEF PUCK” with “Use Thru” dates of 4/14/19, 4/17/19, 4/20/19, 4/23/19, 4/28/19, and 4/30/19.
Preparing Ground Beef Safely
Never, ever eat ground beef that has been recalled — even if it “looks OK.” Otherwise, take these steps when handling and preparing ground beef to reduce your risk of foodborne illness, like E. coli infection:
- Wash up. After touching raw ground beef, make sure to wash your hands with soap and water and before touching other items in your kitchen. Clean any kitchen items that came into contact with the meat as well, using hot, soapy water or a bleach solution, including cutting boards, plates, utensils, and countertops.
- Keep raw meat separate from other foods. Don’t let raw meat touch other foods that you’re going to serve without cooking.
- Cook it thoroughly. Again, for the people in the back: Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can tell if meat is cooked safely just by looking at it! Ground-beef hamburgers and mixtures like meatloaf should be cooked to 160°F internal temperature, according to the CDC. Use a food thermometer to be extra sure it’s reached this safe temperature. When eating out, ask that anything with ground beef be cooked to this temperature as well.
- Store it properly. Raw ground beef should be stored within two hours of purchase and kept on the lowest shelf of your fridge (use within 1-2 days) or in small packages in your freezer (make sure to label it with the date you froze it and where you bought it). Cooked ground beef should be stored in your fridge within two hours and used within three or four days.
- Thaw it properly. The best way to thaw your ground beef? Right in your refrigerator. Then make sure to cook it within one or two days.
Symptoms of E. Coli Infection
If you’ve ever had food poisoning, you’ll know the unpleasant symptoms to expect if you’ve eaten something contaminated with E. coli. While some types of food poisoning come on quickly, illness from E. coli can take several days to develop. About three or four days after being exposed, you may experience the following symptoms, per the CDC:
- Severe stomach cramps
- Diarrhea (it may be bloody)
Rest and lots of fluids are the main treatment for food poisoning with E. coli. Typically, people start feeling better in about five to seven days. Some people have only mild symptoms, while other cases are more severe and can even be life-threatening.
When to See a Doctor About Food Poisoning
If your diarrhea lasts for more than three days or comes with a fever of 102˚F or higher, blood in the stool, or vomiting to the point that you can’t keep any liquids down and you pass very little urine, see a doctor ASAP. Dehydration is a common complication of E. coli infection and can be extremely dangerous. In the most severe cases, people may be hospitalized to be treated with IV fluids, kidney dialysis, and blood transfusions, according to the Mayo Clinic.