Who hasn’t enjoyed a nice spoonful (or two or three) of raw cookie dough at least once? Let’s be honest, it’s practically a rite of passage. Some of my warmest childhood memories involve baking cookies with the family and snatching at least a nibble of raw dough with each batch. In fact, after helping mix a batch of cake batter, my siblings and I would squabble over who got to lick the big spoon.
Yep, those were good times. Even more so, I realize now, because none of us got sick from those uncooked tastes.
The inherent dangers of eating raw dough and batter hit home once again late last month when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent a strong message to consumers that anyone eating raw dough or batter needs to stop now.
What’s the issue? We’ve been told for years that raw eggs in dough or batter could cause salmonella poisoning.
That’s serious enough. But last month, the FDA added another potential health hazard to the mix that may come as a surprise. According to the FDA, flour – yes, flour – may contain bacteria that can make anyone consuming it raw very sick. As the FDA explains, flour comes from grain grown in a field, which is then harvested and milled into flour. But here’s the problem: Grain in the field may not be treated for bacteria. So any bacteria in the grain, from animal waste for example, transfers to the milled flour. And, that’s not a good thing for those eating it raw.
Currently, the FDA, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other officials are looking closely at a number of people nationwide who have become ill due to a nasty strain of bacteria identified as Shiga toxin-producing E. coli.
According to an article from the FDA, the investigation identified a link between some of those affected and raw dough made with flour produced at a Kansas City facility. Such an outbreak serves as a stark reminder of why safe food handling and preparation is so important, and why eating raw dough or batter just isn’t worth the risk.
“Bacteria, such as salmonella and E. coli. remain in foods such as eggs, flour, meats and other items, until they’ve been properly prepared before eating,” explains Lauren Larson, registered dietitian with Banner Health in Northern Colorado. “Heating these foods to temperatures high enough to kill bacteria is required. Follow directions on your food packages to ensure you are heating foods at the proper temperature for the proper amount of time. Even under-cooked foods pose a risk for bacteria.”
And, that risk can be substantial. As an article from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics points out, food poisoning causes sickness in one out of six Americans each year. Many illnesses require hospitalization, and some 3,000 people die each year from bacteria such as salmonella, E. coli and listeria.
That’s serious business. And, while food poisoning can affect anyone, those most vulnerable to serious complications include young children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems.
“It is so important to teach your children – and everyone in your family – that it isn’t safe to eat raw dough or batter any time,” Lauren says. “Even if you’ve sampled raw dough in the past, you should not continue. Instead, bake the dough properly and safely enjoy tasty, thoroughly cooked, breads, cookies and cakes.”
The FDA also warns parents against letting children play with raw dough. Even if they’re not eating it, they may ingest bacteria from flour left on their hands. Anyone working with raw dough or flour should thoroughly wash their hands, kitchen countertops and other items that may have come in contact. Flour spreads easily, so be sure to thoroughly clean any areas near where you were preparing food, the FDA advises.
I realize now those happy childhood memories of nibbling raw cookie dough and licking the cake batter spoon clean could have been grim memories if one of us became really sick. We were lucky. Now it’s time to create new memories. The next time my young granddaughter comes to town, we’ll still have fun making tasty treats. But rest assured, there will be no sampling until those treats have been thoroughly baked.