In a report released Tuesday, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that 156 people, across 10 states, had contracted E. coli bacteria.

According to the agency, the outbreak of the bacteria has been linked to the consumption of ground beef, both in homes and restaurants, but it is still working to identify the particular source(s).

“Ill people bought or ate ground beef from several different grocery stores and restaurants,” the CDC said. “Many ill people bought large trays or chubs of ground beef from grocery stores and used the meat to make dishes like spaghetti sauce and sloppy joes… At this time, no common supplier, distributor, or brand of ground beef has been identified.”

The investigation conducted by CDC took into account cases reported between March 1 and April 7. Out of 156 cases, information was available regarding 127 cases. The age of patients ranged from less than a year to 83 years old. Only 20 of them were hospitalized and none of them developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) – a condition which causes the abnormal destruction of red blood cells, which end up clogging the filtering system in the kidneys leading to failure of the organ.

People who contract Shiga toxin-producing E. coli usually fall sick within three to four days with symptoms like stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting. Although the symptoms disappear and the patient starts to feel better within five to seven days, the bacteria can prove fatal for some people, especially if they develop HUS.

Although the outbreak was initially concentrated in three states – Kentucky (65 cases), Tennessee (41 cases) and Georgia (33 cases) – reports also started coming in from Florida, where so far, three people have reportedly contracted E. coli. Other than that, cases have also been reported in states like Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio and Virginia.

CDC stated that while it was not recommending people to stop buying or consuming ground beef altogether, it did want both restaurants and consumers to cook the meat thoroughly to avoid foodborne diseases. The following are a few tips suggested by CDC for cooking beef.

  • Hands that touched raw ground beef should be washed with soap and water. Kitchen appliances and utensils that were used to prepare the meat should be rinsed with hot, soapy water or a bleach solution.
  • Raw meat should be kept separate from foods that won’t be cooked before eating.
  • Ground beef should be cooked at proper temperatures (mixtures such as meatloaf should be cooked at 160 degrees Fahrenheit internal temperature). If unsure about the temperature, usage of a food thermometer is recommended.
  • Cooked ground beef should be refrigerated within two hours and used within three to four days.

CDC also warned people who have contracted E. coli to refrain from taking antibiotics till they have sought professional help.

“Antibiotics are not recommended for patients with suspected E. coli infections until diagnostic testing can be performed and E. coli infection is ruled out. Some studies have shown that administering antibiotics to patients with E. coli infections might increase their risk of developing HUS, and a benefit of treatment has not been clearly demonstrated,” the agency said.