Utahns are asked to throw away or return ground beef from Smith's Food and Drug stores, for fear it may be linked to illness caused by E. coli bacteria.

Ground beef purchased with "sell by" dates ranging from May 21 to July 3 at Smith's in Styrofoam tray packages wrapped in clear cellophane or purchased from an in-store service counter should be thrown out or taken to the store for a refund. People are also protected if they cook the beef to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees.

"Customers should look for and carefully check if they have any ground beef in their refrigerators or freezers," said Meghan Glynn, spokeswoman for The Kroger Co., based in Cincinnati.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture identified that E. coli illnesses in Michigan and Ohio were linked to beef from Omaha-based Nebraska Beef, and Kroger instituted the voluntary recall. E. coli infection can cause severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and fever. Most people recover within five to seven days.

"The chances are very slim that any product in Utah will be implicated, but we don't want to take any chances," said Marsha Gilford, Smith's spokeswoman. "We think it's precautions, but definitely the right thing to do."

Kroger owns Smith's and is the nation's largest traditional grocer. Other Kroger stores include Fred Meyer, Ralphs and Hilander. In Utah, Kroger operates Smith's, with 47 stores. There are a total of 142 Smith's stores in Utah and six other states.

"We buy in group to get the best price for our customers for things like meat," said Gilford.

Inside all Smith's stores, Nebraska Beef with May 21-July 3 "sell by" dates was thrown out. Customers will be safe if they purchase ground beef for the holiday weekend, Gilford said.

People with questions are asked to call Kroger customer service representatives at (800) 632-6900 or visit kroger.com/recalls.

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