Cookie DOH!

”]For years, experts have been telling us not to eat raw cookie dough due to the risk of Salmonella from raw eggs. But that’s not the only risk, and it’s not even the biggest risk. After reading this information based on an article in The New York Times, I predict you’ll never be tempted again.

Ingredients for Foodborne Illness

Whether store-bought or homemade, raw cookie dough is more dangerous than most people know. In 2009, 77 people in 30 states were sickened and 35 were hospitalized due to a potentially deadly strain of E. coli in store-bought, ready-to-bake chocolate chip cookie dough. (Two cases were reported in North Carolina.) Two-thirds of affected patients were younger than age 19, and the youngest was age 2.

It seemed to come as a surprise to scientists (who really ought to get out more) that several people who became sick bought the cookie dough with the specific goal of eating it raw, without ever baking cookies. The research, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, revealed that the most likely cause of the E. coli contamination came not from eggs, but from flour.  According to Dr. Karen Neil, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

“Out of all the ingredients, raw flour is the only raw agricultural product that was in the cookie dough,” Dr. Neil said. “It didn’t undergo any specific processing to kill pathogens, so we feel that’s the most likely suspect for what may have introduced contamination into the cookie dough. We couldn’t prove it conclusively, but that’s what we suspect.”

In commercial products, the eggs are pasteurized, effectively killing pathogens, which is why flour became the “bad guy” ingredient. In a separate study that looked at commercial wheat flour, nearly 13% of samples were contaminated with E. coli. In addition to E. coli, wheat flour could also be contaminated with salmonella.

Of course, raw eggs remain a Salmonella risk for the home baker.

Which poses the worse threat, home-mixed or store-bought cookie dough? According to Dr. Neil:

“It’s difficult to do a direct comparison of the risks,” she said, “but the bottom line is consumers should not eat raw cookie dough, or really any other raw product that’s intended to be baked or cooked before consumption.”

Sorry to be the bearer of such dire warnings during this holiday baking season, but better safe than sorry. In particular, keep children from eating raw cookie dough, even if it means just “licking the bowl.” It may take some getting used to, but at least your family will avoid spending the holidays in the hospital.

To read the full article in The New York Times, click here:  Beware of Raw Cookie Dough

To read the study in Clinical Infectious Diseases, click here:  Novel Vehicle for Transmission of E. coli

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