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Is Eating Raw Cookie Dough Bad For You? Why The FDA Warns Against It

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Raw cookie dough is free of raw eggs, but swiping a bite of dough or licking batter clean from the cake bowl may not be safe and may even make you sick, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on June 28.

FDA nutritionist Jenny Scott said it's not just cookie dough: it could also be dough for bread, tortillas and pizza that could be a problem. She warned that the bottom line is "don't eat raw dough."

But Why?

Flour, whichever the brand, can carry bacteria that may cause diseases. Consumers already understand that eating raw dough is dangerous because of the presence of raw eggs and the risk of getting infected with Salmonella.

However, there are additional risks linked with raw dough, such as the particularly harmful strains of E. coli. Leslie Smoot, a microbiology specialist at the FDA, said flour is usually derived from a grain that comes directly from the field. Flour is not treated to kill bacteria, so the bacteria from animal waste could potentially contaminate the grain.

Now, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the FDA is investigating an outbreak of infections that links flour to the harmful strain.

Reports have revealed that dozens of people across the U.S. have gotten sick over a strain of the bacteria known as E. coli O121. The infections reportedly began in December 2015 with at least 10 of the infected individuals getting hospitalized.

The agency found that raw dough handled and eaten by some of the infected patients were made with General Mills flour produced in Kansas City. Succeeding tests by the FDA linked the bacteria in a flour sample to the bacteria from patients who got ill.

This corroborates with a report published in June — General Mills voluntarily recalled 10 million pounds of flour because of E. coli concerns. The brand names affected were Signature Kitchens, Gold Medal and Wondra.

The agency said some of the recalled bags of flour had been sold to restaurants that allow kids to play with dough made from raw flour while waiting for meals. The CDC advises these restaurants to put an end to the practice.

Symptoms And Solutions

The symptoms of E. coli O121 often include diarrhea, vomiting and severe stomach cramps. Most infected patients get better after seven days, but some cases can lead to a kind of kidney failure called the hemolytic-uremic syndrome. Children under the age of 5 years, older people and those with weakened immune systems are most vulnerable to severe illnesses linked to E. coli O121.

But do not fret. The FDA said the best solution is to handle food safely. The agency offered some tips in safe food handling such as the following:

1. Do not eat raw cake mix, batter, cookie dough or any other raw dough that is supposed to be baked or cooked.

2. Follow package directions for cooking products that contain flour at specific times and at specific temperatures.

3. Make sure that work surfaces are clean. Wash your hands and the utensils you will use thoroughly.

4. Keep raw foods away from other foods to prevent contamination. Know that flour may spread easily because it is powdery.

5. Follow label directions and put products with raw dough in the refrigerator after purchasing.

Photo: Nick Ares | Flickr

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