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Another reason not to eat raw cookie dough

Posted July 13

Everyone knows they shouldn't eat cookie dough because of the risk of salmonella from raw eggs. (Not that this stops many of us from indulging.)

But federal health officials are warning of a surprising new risk that may finally get us to back away from the mixing bowl for good: The flour may be contaminated with E. coli.

As Allison Carter reports in USA Today, 38 people have been infected since December with a strain of E. coli that causes bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps. All had consumed some form of General Mills flour.

The company has recalled three types of flour: Gold Medal, Signature Kitchens and Gold Medal Wondra; all were made between Nov. 14 and Dec. 4 of 2015, and the recall includes all-purpose, self-rising and unbleached flour.

It's unusual for flour to cause an outbreak of illness, USA Today noted, even though any grain growing in a field can be contaminated by an animal's waste.

Normally, bacteria dies during high-temperature cooking, but it's still alive in that bowl of cookie dough. (For the record, "raw cookie dough" is redundant; cookie dough becomes "cookies" when it's cooked. Just sayin', FDA.)

The news was bemoaned by cookie dough lovers, who have found ways to indulge without eggs, but find it more difficult to create without flour. (Although there are recipes flourless chocolate-chip cookies, if you're not allergic to peanut butter.)

But if so many of us eat cookie dough, either while baking or indulging in cookie-dough ice cream, why do so few of us get sick? Food safety lawyer Bill Marler told USA Today the only similar recall he remembers was in 2009, when prepackaged Nestle Toll House cookie dough sickened 77 people in 20 states.

Writing in Slate two years ago, L.V. Anderson said she's been tasting cookie dough and raw batter for more than a quarter of a century and has never gotten sick from salmonella. She explained that it's probably a combination of a good immune system (the very young and the very old are more likely to get sick and to suffer more severe symptoms) and the fact that the odds of getting salmonella just aren't that great.

You have to be cooking with an infected egg laid by a hen that carries salmonella enteritidis (infected hens don't always lay infected eggs). And then you have to consume that small bit of egg in the teaspoon of dough or batter you eat.

"If the amount of bacteria in the egg remains relatively small, it’s perfectly conceivable that a spoon-licker like myself would simply miss the infected portion of the egg, which would end up getting killed in the oven or washed down the sink," Anderson wrote.

She doesn't, however, address the issue of flour. And, tiny chance or not, do you really want any risk of bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramping just for the sake of a fleeting bite of pleasure?

Thought not.

So, no more cookie dough; wash hands, work surfaces and utensils thoroughly after working with flour, the Food and Drug Administration says; and be sure your children don't sample homemade play dough or bread dough, either.

EMAIL: jgraham@deseretnews.com

TWITTER: @grahamtoday

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