While it’s never been advisable to eat raw cookie dough, a new reason to steer clear of the cult-favorite uncooked, gooey sweet treat is here to Grinch-ify the holidays. Licking the spoon this season (and at all times) should be avoided not just because of the possibility of contracting salmonella from the raw eggs, but also due to something that seemed totally benign until just recently: flour.
A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that raw flour can carry E. coli. Yep, the bacteria that can cause extreme intestinal infections and was—until recently—thought to live specifically in moist environments, like on greens and ground meats, can also thrive in dry goods like flour. The study retraced an outbreak last year when 10 million pounds of flour were recalled after 56 patients across 24 states were hospitalized.
“The bacteria is not uniformly distributed in a two-and-a-half pound bag of flour,” said Samuel J. Crowe, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and an epidemiologist with the division of food-borne, waterborne, and environmental diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to The New York Times. “A small amount could get you really sick. I’ve had E. coli and salmonella, and it’s pretty darn unpleasant.”
Marguerite A. Neill, MD, said that to avoid flour-caused E. coli, simply avoid eating raw flour, and wash your hands in hot, soapy water after handling.
Obviously, this doesn’t mean you need to stay away from flour completely, but handle it with care. Food-borne illness expert Marguerite A. Neill, MD, told the The New York Times that to avoid injury, simply avoid eating raw flour, and wash your hands in hot, soapy water after handling.
So what does this mean for the pints of Halo Top cookie dough ice cream and commercially available raw (and healthy-ish!) cookie dough? There’s some good news. According to The Times, the dough in products like your ice cream or refrigerated pre-made cookie dough has been heat treated, effectively killing any potential E. coli. That’s because in 2009, a strain of the bacteria from commercial cookie dough made 77 people sick, and flour was the suspected cause.
So if you’re whipping up a batch of healthy, seasonal cookies at home, maybe refrain from snacking on or tasting your uncooked treats. Patience with the oven is a solid mindfulness practice, after all.
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