I don't know about you, but I've eaten a lot of raw cookie dough in my day (including straight from a store-bought tube during my college years!). Now as a mom, I sometimes let my kids lick the beaters when I'm making a from-scratch cake. But new health warnings have changed my mind: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued a new consumer update that eating raw dough and batter can make you sick—and the reason may surprise you.
We already know that raw eggs, found in many kinds of cookie dough and batter, are associated with the risk of salmonella. But it turns out, flour can also harbor disease-causing bacteria such as E. coli. In fact, a recent multi-state outbreak of foodborne illness was traced back to raw cookie dough—and the culprit was tainted flour in the dough. That led General Mills to conduct a voluntary recall of 10 million pounds of flour sold nationwide under the names Gold Medal, Gold Medal Wondra, and Signature Kitchen's. (Check their website to see if you have the tainted flour in your cupboard.)
But the warning doesn't just cover cookie dough and batter. It also includes any batter or dough made with flour, such as bread, pizza, and tortillas. Homemade cookie dough ice cream made with raw cookie dough should also be avoided. (Commercial varieties of the flavor are safe because the manufacturers have used treated flour and pasteurized eggs.)
The FDA advises consumers to wash hands and thoroughly clean work surfaces after handling flour.
The agency is also warning parents not to allow kids to play with homemade play-dough or flour crafts. Many kids nibble on the dough as they're playing with it—and even if they don't eat it, they could get harmful bacteria on their fingers and then put their fingers in their mouths.
Keep in mind that these worries only concern raw, untreated flour. When flour is processed through boiling, baking, roasting, microwaving, or frying, any harmful bacteria that may be in the flour is killed.
Symptoms of E.coli infection include diarrhea and abdominal cramps two to eight days after being exposed to the bacteria. Though most people get better within a week, some cases may be more serious and trigger kidney failure. Very young kids (younger than 5), elderly people, and those with weak immune systems due to disease or medication are more vulnerable to these kinds of severe cases.
Learn more about the outbreak on the FDA's website.
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.