Ralphs supermarkets across California were restocking meat counters with ground beef Wednesday after clearing out previous supplies that were linked to reports of E. coli illnesses.
Kroger Co., the parent of Ralphs, at first limited its action to stores in the Midwest, where the E. coli cases were reported. It expanded the effort Tuesday by instructing all of its stores in more than 20 states to remove all fresh ground beef from shelves as a precaution.
The new ground beef in the chain's 266 California stores came from a different supplier not associated with the recall, executives said.
Kroger said that customers should check for ground beef bought at Ralphs with sell-by dates of May 21 through July 3. Any such meat should be returned to local Ralphs markets for a full refund or replacement.
Nebraska Beef Ltd., based in Omaha, recalled 531,707 pounds of ground beef produced since May after some of it was linked to reports that at least 38 people in Ohio and Michigan had become ill between May 31 and June 8, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service said Tuesday.
Nebraska Beef said it had processed more than 10 billion pounds of meat without a confirmed customer illness since 1995 and claimed to not be the sole supplier of the affected beef.
Kroger's expanded recall includes ground beef in Styrofoam tray packages wrapped in cellophane or purchased from in-store meat counters.
Ralphs supermarkets, which are supplied by Kroger, had posted signs that ground beef would be unavailable until Wednesday, a store manager in Hollywood said.
A Ralphs corporate spokesman could not be reached to say how many area stores had removed the ground beef.
E. coli can cause severe illness and death in humans. Symptoms of E. coli infection include stomach cramps and diarrhea.
Federal agriculture officials urge people to eat only ground beef that has been cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.