At least three major grocery store chains have recalled some of their ground beef products from stores across the southeastern U.S. after learning the meat may be contaminated with E. coli bacteria.

The Department of Agriculture said more than 60,000 pounds of meat has been recalled after the Ohio Department of Agriculture discovered the bacteria during routine testing. The meat was supplied by the National Beef Packaging Co., of Dodge City Kansas.

The recalls primarily affect beef products sold by Winn Dixie, Publix and Kroger grocery stores in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina and Tennessee. However, the USDA said the meat was sent to several distributors and could have been repackaged for consumers and sold nationwide.

A spokesman for National Beef Packaging told the Associated Press that it has never previously had a problem with E. coli. The company said it's reviewing processes and procedures in an effort to identify the cause of the contamination and prevent it from occurring again.

So far, there have been no reports of illnesses in connection from the tainted beef, according to the USDA.

E. coli can cause bloody diarrhea, dehydration and other problems, and is deadly in many cases. Young children, the elderly and individuals with weak immune systems may be particularly susceptible to the bacteria, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The USDA recommends cooking ground beef to a temperature of at least 160 degrees to prevent sickness. The agency said the temperature should be checked with a food thermometer that measures internal temperature.

Shoppers should be cautious while purchasing meat at any of the affected grocery stores. At Krogers, the recalled products include ground chuck, ground beef patties, meatballs and store-made meat loaf with sell by dates of July to 29 to Aug. 12. At Publix, products include meatballs, ground chuck patties and stuffed peppers with sell by dates of July 25 to Aug. 12, while at Winn Dixie, ground chuck and patties with sell by dates of July 31 to Aug. 12 have been recalled.

The companies said people should return the beef to the store of purchase for a full refund.

In Oregon, one person was recently killed and 14 others sickened as the result of an E. coli outbreak in a Portland strawberry farm. Ten percent of the samples taken from the Jacquith Strawberry Farm tested positive for the bacteria, The Oregonian reported. The contaminated strawberries were sold between June 11 and Aug. 1 in stores and farm stands.