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Hunt for E. coli source homes in on ground beef

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Federal health authorities have traced a spreading outbreak of E. coli poisonings to ground beef that may have been served by eateries, but say they still cannot identify the specific operations or suppliers involved. 

Until the exact sources are pinpointed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Friday that consumers need not avoid eating ground beef, and restaurants should not shy away from serving it.

The number of victims has risen to 109 consumers in six states, a steep increase from the 72 people who initially reported being sickened with symptoms of E. coli poisoning. The incidence is still highest in Kentucky, with 54 cases, followed by Tennessee (28 victims), Georgia (17), Ohio (seven), Virginia (two) and Indiana (one).

Investigators have connected the sickened individuals to the consumption of beef either in a restaurant or at home. They noted that a number of the victims had used ground beef in dishes containing sauce such as sloppy Joes or spaghetti with meat sauce.

In an E. coli outbreak, the count of victims tends to climb for weeks or even months after an initial report from the CDC, as more people come forward because of the publicity and the delayed onset of symptoms. Most of the victims were sickened in March.

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