Even as adults, it is hard to override the urge to sneak a bite of raw cookie dough. Even as kids, our parents would warn us of the dangers of Salmonella but we probably thought the threat was exaggerated to keep us from ruining our appetites. Well as it turns out mom was right. The 2009 E. coli outbreak that sickened 80 people and sent 35 to the hospital was caused by consuming ready-to-bake cookie dough.
Despite the frequent warnings we received as kids, a 2008 study of risky eating behavior conducted on college students, researchers found out that 53% of the students surveyed admitted to eating raw cookie dough and in regards to the 2009 outbreak research revealed that many of those who bought the cookie dough, bought it with the sole intention of eating the dough raw.
While most of us were told that the only thing to worry about in eating cookie dough was the raw eggs, a known carrier of Salmonella, it turns out that they were not the culprit in the last outbreak. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the carrier in this case was not the eggs but the flour.
According to the studies’ leader Dr. Karen Neil:
“Out of all the ingredients, raw flour is the only raw agricultural product that was in the cookie dough, it didn’t undergo any specific processing to kill pathogens, so we fell 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.”
The researchers found that all other ingredients such as eggs, molasses, sugar and margarine underwent pasteurization or other pathogen killing steps and there was no trace of E. coli in the chocolate chips themselves. It might come as a surprise to consumers but E. coli has been found in up to 13% of the commercial wheat flour samples taken and this is not the first time that food-borne illness outbreaks have been traced back to flour-based mixes.
The bottom line: Always follow the manufactures directions when you purchase packaged food and never consume raw products that are intended to be served cooked. Dr. Neil concluded that: “I think the safest thing that people can do is just practice good safety measures in general. The four basic messages we use are clean, separate, cook and chill.” While it may be hard to pass on that bite of raw cookie dough the consequences of the indulgence may be deadly.