- It might taste delicious, but eating raw cookie dough really can make you sick. Raw eggs can be contaminated with salmonella and raw flour can contain E. coli.
- General Mills recalled five-pound bags of Gold Medal flour in September 2019 and Pillsbury, Aldi, and King Arthur Flour also announced flour recalls earlier that year.
- In 2009, Nestlé had to recall 3.6 million packages of its refrigerated cookie dough after nearly 80 people got food poisoning from E. coli lurking in the raw flour.
- Raw eggs contaminated with salmonella cause 79,000 foodborne illnesses and 30 deaths in the US every year, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
- If you can’t go on without eating cookie dough, try some alternatives like edible dough and dessert hummus.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Following is a transcript of the video.
Licking the spoon is the best part of baking cookies. But it’s a bad idea. Because eating raw cookie dough really can make you sick, and not just because it contains raw eggs.
In 2009, over 77 people across 30 states got food poisoning after eating prepackaged raw cookie dough. Many experienced vomiting and bloody diarrhea, and some had severe kidney damage. In the end, Nestlé had to recall 3.6 million packages of its refrigerated cookie dough. And in 2016, another group got sick after eating raw homemade cookie dough made from General Mills products.
But despite what you’d expect, the culprit wasn’t salmonella in the eggs. It was a shiga toxin-producing E. coli in the flour, the same type that sometimes finds its way into romaine lettuce and hamburger meat. In fact, the CDC estimates it’s responsible for 265,000 illnesses, 3,600 hospitalizations, and 30 deaths in the United States every year.
Now, normally E. coli likes to bunker down in moist places. That’s why scientists were surprised when it turned up in flour. And even today, it’s a mystery as to how the E. coli got there in the first place, or how it survived in the flour’s dry environment. The problem is that the bacteria could have infiltrated the flour during any step of the manufacturing process. It might have snuck onto the wheat from animal poop, or jumped to the flour from a contaminated processing equipment. There’s really no way to know for sure. Now, just to be clear, although flour was the culprit in this case, raw eggs can still be just as dangerous. In fact, the FDA estimates that every year contaminated eggs cause 79,000 food-borne illnesses and 30 deaths in the United States. With that in mind, the CDC warns against eating any raw cookie dough.
But, there’s good news. Although, yes, there’s a risk your cookie dough is contaminated, it’s a pretty minimal one. Many bakers, for example, taste test all the time, no worse for wear. Plus, a study found that over half of college students ate unbaked cookie dough, and they lived to tell the tale.
Even better, the risk is lower today than ever before, at least when it comes to store-bought varieties. Because, after the 2009 outbreak, companies like Nestlé and Pillsbury have started including heat-treated flour and pasteurized eggs in their dough. By heating flour to 71 degrees Celsius, you kill off any E. coli. And the pasteurization process heats eggs just enough to kill off bacteria without cooking the egg. Heat-treated flour and pasteurized eggs also explain why the sort of cookie dough you find in ice cream is harmless. But if you insist on making your chocolate chip cookies from scratch, there’s a DIY way to sterilize your own ingredients: bake the cookie! It’ll still taste good.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published on February 12, 2019.