If you love eating cookie dough, you’re not alone. Manufacturers even make cookie dough flavored ice creams and other foods these days. However, most of us know there is a risk when consuming this sweet uncooked treat – the raw eggs in it are known to have issues with salmonella contamination from time to time. Now, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is cautioning against eating raw cookie dough for a whole other reason, after a recent outbreak occurred that was linked to a bacteria that was found not in the eggs, but in the flour itself.
According to the FDA’s advisory, raw flour could contain a particularly nasty Shiga toxin producing bacteria called E. coli O121. The most common symptoms of this bacteria are abdominal cramps and diarrhea that has blood. In severe cases, a specific type of kidney failure could occur, called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Those who are most at risk of getting this infection are the very young, the elderly, and those who are suppressed immune systems.
As a result of the recent outbreak, General Mills has voluntarily launched a nationwide recall of over 10 million pounds of flour. This flour was manufactured in a plant in Kansas City, Missouri, and was sold under several different brand names, including Gold Medal, Gold Medal Wondra and Signature Kitchen. The flour was of several different varieties, including all-purpose, unbleached, and self-rising. Consumers have been advised by the FDA to voluntarily dispose of any of this flour they may have in their homes. It bears to note that there may be other brands of flours out there that also contain this bacteria that has yet to be identified.
The main reason that raw dough is not safe to eat, is because there are no “kill steps” that happen before it is eaten. Kill steps are the heating and cooking processes that get rid of harmful, toxic bacteria, such as frying, baking, boiling, roasting and even microwaving.
Raw egg safety is self explanatory, but flour is not often looked at with suspicion. However, flour comes directly from grain that is grown in fields, and it not usually treated to kill any bacteria. So theoretically, if an animal defecates in the fields where the wheat is grown, bacteria from the feces could remain on the grains and poison the end product of the flour that it is eventually milled into.
It is important to note that while some of the flour brands have recalled their products, there is raw dough used in other things such as play-doh and play clay that could still potentially sicken consumers. To that end, restaurants and schools have now been advised not to allow children with any product, handmade or manufactured, that includes raw dough.