My grandkids and I have a tradition of spending a Saturday afternoon this time of year baking pies, cakes, and cookies for the holidays. I’ve always let my grandkids lick the spoon from the raw cake batter and raw cookie dough, but now my son is telling me it’s not safe to do so. Why is that?
While many people (including me!) might love the taste of raw cookie dough or raw cake or brownie batter, eating it can make you sick. That’s because the raw eggs and uncooked flour that go into many recipes can contain bacteria such as E. coli or salmonella, which can result in a bad case of foodborne illness.
Most people know that raw or undercooked eggs can cause salmonella poisoning, which can result in fever, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea, but fewer people are aware that raw flour can also harbor dangerous bacteria, such as E. coli, which can also cause significant illness.
Symptoms of an E. coli infection can include severe stomach pain, diarrhea, and vomiting. Most people typically recover from illness associated with salmonella and E. coli within a week.
In a new warning issued recently by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), consumers are reminded that flour is derived from untreated grain and might be contaminated with bacteria such as E. coli.
“Harmful germs can contaminate grain while it’s still in the field or at other steps as flour is produced,” the CDC said.
For example, if an animal defecates or urinates in the field, bacteria from the animal waste could contaminate the grain, which is then harvested and milled into flour, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
In fact, between December 2015 and September 2016, some 63 people across the United States developed an E. coli infection after eating raw flour. And in Canada, 30 people became sick between November 2016 and April 2017 after eating raw or uncooked flour contaminated with E. coli, according to the CDC.
To avoid any potential bouts of foodborne illness, it is recommended that you avoid tasting or eating raw dough or batter, regardless of whether it is for cookies, tortillas, biscuits, pancakes, or crafts such as homemade play dough or holiday ornaments.
Bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli that may be present in raw dough are killed in the cooking process, the FDA says.
Additionally, the CDC recommends that you:
- do not allow children to play with or eat raw dough, including dough for crafts.
- ensure that you 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.
- keep raw foods such as flour or eggs separate from ready-to-eat foods. This is because flour is a powder and 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 by washing your hands with running water and soap after handling flour, raw eggs, or any surfaces that they have touched. Also remember to wash bowls, utensils, countertops, and other surfaces with warm, soapy water.
For those of you (like me!) who want the taste of raw cookie dough without the worry of foodborne illness, you do have the option of indulging in cookie dough candies and cookie dough ice cream sold in stores. These items contain dough that has been treated to kill harmful bacteria.
Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor: This column was reviewed by Irene Hatsu, state specialist in food security for Ohio State University Extension.