The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is playing Scrooge again this holiday season and warning us against indulging in one of baking-from-scratch’s most popular perks: eating raw cookie dough.
That’s right. When making cookies (or cakes or even bread) this holiday season, you need to resist the temptation to eat the batter on the mixing bowl or spoon.
Not heeding that warning might just make you sick, say CDC officials.
The risk comes from two sources. The first — and main — risk is the raw eggs, which can contain salmonella bacteria. There’s no way of visually inspecting an egg to know whether it contains the pathogen, officials point out, and because salmonella is sometimes found inside infected eggs, washing them won’t protect you. You have to thoroughly cook the egg to kill the bacteria.
In 2016, U.S. health officials were able to trace a nationwide outbreak of 63 E. coli illnesses — including seven here in Minnesota — to three brands of flour sold in supermarkets by General Mills.
More recently (in November) four varieties of Duncan Hines cake mix, made by Conagra Brands, were recalled after health officials in Oregon found a rare strain of salmonella (S. Agbeni) in a box of Duncan Hines Classic White Cake Mix. Officials are currently investigating whether a small salmonella outbreak involving three states (Wisconsin, Ohio and Maryland) is linked to flour in that cake mix.
Nasty and potentially deadly
Salmonella and E. coli infections can be nasty illnesses — and potentially deadly.
An estimated 1.2 million Americans become infected with salmonella each year. Of those, about 23,000 people are hospitalized and about 450 die. Symptoms, which usually begin 12 to 72 hours after ingesting the bacteria, include diarrhea, stomach cramps and fever. The illness can last up to a week. Most people recover without needing treatment, but sometimes the bacteria can spread from the intestines to other parts of the body, requiring quick treatment with antibiotics.
In addition to eggs, the most common sources of salmonella illnesses are raw or uncooked meat and poultry, although the bacteria can also be found on fruits and vegetables.
E. coli causes an estimated 265,000 illnesses, 3,600 hospitalizations and 30 deaths in the U.S. each year. Symptoms, which begin one to 10 days after ingesting the bacteria, include nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and sometimes fever. As with salmonella infections, most people recover from E. coli illnesses without needing treatment, but up to 10 percent develop a potentially life-threatening complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure.
Although health officials cite flour as a potential food source of E. coli illnesses, it is not among the most common ones. You are much more likely to develop an E. coli illness from eating undercooked ground beef, unpasteurized milk, or spinach, lettuce and other fresh produce that has become contaminated with the bacteria (often from runoff from nearby cattle farms).
Still, flour — and especially eggs — pose some risk, so CDC officials want all home bakers to “Say no to raw dough!” To help you do that, here are their tips for baking and cooking with flour and other raw ingredients this holiday season — and throughout the year:
Do not taste or eat any raw dough or batter, whether for cookies, tortillas, pizza, biscuits, pancakes, or crafts made with raw flour, such as homemade play dough or holiday ornaments.
Do not let children play with or eat raw dough, including dough for crafts.
Bake or cook raw dough and batter, such as cookie dough and cake mix, before eating.
Follow the recipe or package directions for cooking or baking at the proper temperature and for the specified time.
Do not make milkshakes with products that contain raw flour, such as cake mix.
Do not use raw, homemade cookie dough in ice cream.
- Cookie dough ice cream sold in stores contains dough that has been treated to kill harmful bacteria.
Keep raw foods such as flour or eggs separate from ready-to eat-foods. Because flour is a powder, it can spread easily.
Follow label directions to refrigerate products containing raw dough or eggs until they are cooked.
Clean up thoroughly after handling flour, eggs, or raw dough:
- Wash your hands with running water and soap after handling flour, raw eggs, or any surfaces that they have touched.
- Wash bowls, utensils, countertops, and other surfaces with warm, soapy water.
FMI: You can find out more about foodborne illnesses at the websites for the CDC and the Minnesota Department of Health.