Kitchen Safety Alert: New Reasons to Bake, Not Taste, Cookie Dough

Jennifer Lovejoy, Arivale Chief Science Officer, PhD
Jennifer Lovejoy
Arivale Chief Science Officer, PhD

Cookie dough can be hard to resist. Butter and brown sugar, vanilla, leavening, eggs, chocolate, deliciously bound together with flour.

But, besides the calorie hit, every pre-bake nibble is already a known risk, because raw eggs can carry pathogens.

As it turns out, even if your dough doesn’t contain eggs, you need to wait till after baking to savor. Here’s why: Uncooked flour can make you seriously ill, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The New York Times also wrote a story about the investigation and findings.

The powder in our measuring cup looks pure, but even traces can make people sick. Because it is so dry, flour had never been considered a bacterial-contamination risk.  The study concludes that despite its low-moisture content, raw flour can cause food poisoning. This study addressed wheat flour, but any type could be infested.

Arivale clinicians looked at the original research and coverage in the media. The findings are clear. Pre-baked dough is delicious but can cause food poisoning.

A multistate investigation

The context: From December 2015 to September 2016, 56 people across 24 states got sick in an outbreak of E.coli infection.  More than a quarter of them were hospitalized. One patient experienced kidney failure. Thankfully, all of the patients, whose ages ranged from 1 to 95, recovered.

Patients experienced symptoms such as abdominal pain, mild fever, vomiting, and diarrhea, which was often bloody. Stool samples helped isolate the strain of E.coli, and lead researchers to a source.

Risk and a recall

Most E. coli are harmless and actually are an important part of a healthy human intestinal tract. However, some kinds of E.coli can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections, and other illnesses.

In this case, research found the contaminated flour all came from the same processing plant in Kansas City, Missouri, but included several brands, as well as pancake and cake mixes.  Although most of the people who fell ill tasted raw dough during baking, many kids got sick after eating homemade playdough, or raw tortilla dough they were given to play with at a restaurant.

The investigation led to a recall of more than 10 million pounds of flour in the summer of 2016.

Steps to stay safe

The innocence of a guilty pleasure just went on alert. That’s how the cookie crumbles. Let it. Bake first, then taste.

More ways to stay safe when handling raw flour:

  • Wash hands in hot, soapy water after handling flour.
  • Follow package directions for cooking at proper temperatures.
  • Wash surfaces and utensils after contact with flour products.

Note: If you’re baking with your children or grandkids, without spoiling the fun, double-down on kitchen hygiene.  Lesson: Good things come to those who wait. Like freshly baked cookies. What could be better?

Takeaways: Food safety, patience, and moderation

The raw-batter research reveals another reason to not just keep hands out of the cookie jar but out of the mixing bowl. And if you love baked goods, but you’re working on nutrition goals, talk with your Arivale Coach on how treats may fit into your overall wellness plan. As the saying goes: Everything in moderation.