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The FDA Just Declared War on Cookie Dough

Goodbye sweet spoons, hello food safety

Think twice before digging in. (Nick Ates /Flickr/Creative Commons)
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It’s a dangerous world out there—from geopolitical turmoil to new epidemics, it can sometimes seem as if potential hazards lurk around every corner. But don’t try to handle the fear by licking the beaters while baking or burying yourself in a bowl of homemade cookie dough. As Allison Carter writes for the Indianapolis Star, the Food and Drug Administration is warning Americans to put down the raw cookie dough or risk severe health consequences.

In a recent consumer update, the FDA warns consumers to stop indulging in raw dough in any form—regardless of whether it contains eggs. Jenny Scott, a senior adviser in the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, says that “eating raw dough or batter—whether it’s for bread, cookies, pizza or tortillas—could make you, and your kids, sick.”

You can thank E. coli bacteria—and the flour industry—for the recent warning. FDA officials recently found a Shiga toxin-producing variety of the nasty bug after news that consumers in 20 states were hospitalized or sickened after handling or eating raw dough. An FDA investigation traced the bacteria back to a batch of General Mills flour produced at a Missouri facility in November 2015. General Mills cooperated with the investigation and recalled a variety of flour products, including Gold Medal all-purpose flour and Wondra. The recent outbreak isn’t the only time E. coli has been found in flour: A 1993 study found that a full 12.8 percent of commercial samples contained the pathogen.

Shiga is no laughing matter: The toxin can cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms including bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping and even kidney failure in some patients. As with many toxins, the very young and very old are at particular risk, as are people with compromised immune systems. Also known as verotoxin, Shiga has no antidote. That means that doctors can only treat symptoms—not the underlying cause.

According to the FDA, “flour, regardless of the brand, can contain bacteria that causes disease.” Baking, boiling, microwaving, roasting and frying can kill the bugs, but dough that hasn’t gone through that heating process puts consumers at risk, the agency says. Translation: Any and all dough that contains flour poses a risk—even licking the beaters could be an exercise in culinary danger.

That’s sad news for those who thought they could get around raw dough dangers by just snacking on dough that doesn’t contain eggs. (Raw or undercooked eggs cause the majority of Salmonella infections in the United States.) Especially in an age of Pinterest, egg-free recipes for things like homemade craft dough and a million kinds of delicious doughs made for snacking or stirring into ice cream, the recommendation might feel hard to swallow.

As Carter writes, it may be time to “weep for a tiny sliver of happiness that has evaporated in the name of adulthood and safety.” Or drown your sorrows in a pint of ice cream instead—after all, cookie dough ice cream uses specially pasteurized dough that the FDA classifies as “safe to eat.”

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