E. coli cases Still Popping up Throughout Central Ohio

Central Ohio residents continue to be sickened in the E. coli outbreak, with the date of the start of symptoms now going as late as June 20.

As of yesterday, 18 cases had been reported in Delaware, Fairfield, Franklin and Union counties. Seven of the illnesses were in Columbus, and eight people have been hospitalized in the string of virulent infections now connected to ground beef.

In central Ohio, 15 cases have been genetically linked and matched with cases elsewhere in Ohio and in Michigan, and with tainted beef from Kroger stores in both states.

Four Lucas County residents and one Seneca County resident were sickened in the outbreak.

Reports of E. coli infections started earlier this month and this week prompted Kroger to recall an unspecified amount of meat sold at its stores between May 21 and June 8. The chain, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, advises throwing away the meat or bringing it to a Kroger store for a refund.

The recall does not mean that only Kroger sold tainted meat, but so far investigators have found no other sources. Kroger buys meat from several sources, which also sell to other retailers.

Amy Barlow, spokeswoman for the company's Columbus division, said that stores are providing refunds to everyone, even if the meat was purchased before or after the recall dates.

"If they don't feel comfortable, we're taking care of them, no questions asked," Barlow said.

Central Ohio public health agencies offer the following tips for safe handling and preparation of beef:

• When buying raw meat at the grocery store, always place it inside a plastic bag that is provided near the meat display case. This helps prevent leaks and cross contamination.

• Have a cooler of ice in your car to store the meat during the ride home, or plan to go directly home so you can place the meat in your refrigerator. This is important especially during warm-weather months.

• When grilling, remember to use one plate for raw meat and a clean plate for the cooked meat. Always keep raw meat away from ready-to-eat food.

• Grilling can be difficult when it comes to hand washing. Always wash your hands after touching raw meat.

• Cook ground beef to 160 degrees. Test the meat by putting a food thermometer in the thickest part of the meat. Do not eat ground beef that is still pink in the middle, and do not assume that color is a reliable indicator of temperature.

• If a restaurant serves you an under-cooked hamburger, send it back for more cooking. Ask for a new bun and a clean plate, too.