Baking is often a fun time in a household where the parents or grandparent are in charge of all the work and the children or grandchildren have the sole task of cleaning out the cookie dough residue in the mixing bowl. Although, this practice has long been advised against due to uncooked eggs possibly resulting in salmonella exposure, recent findings uncovered by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) indicate that the health hazards of raw dough are greater than expected.

Senior adviser in the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Jenny Scott, recognized that generally flour is not the first product that comes to mind when thinking of potential pathogen sources.

Cookie dough
The FDA recently found that the health hazards of raw dough are greater than expected.Credit:

Where did these bacteria come from?

The FDA reported an outbreak of illnesses linked to certain flour commonly used in various dough that may contain bacteria called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O121 in an advisory on Tuesday, 28 June. According to Health Line, although these bacteria normally live in the intestines of human beings and animals alike, certain strains are particularly harmful and can cause infection. Our bodies are exposed to such strains through contaminated food and water, which is what this raw flour is said to contain.

Since the infections began in December last year, a reported 38 people in 20 states have been affected by the bacteria and 10 of those infected have been hospitalized. There is a whole new perspective on the grain that once seemed harmless, but is now scaring many across the nation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) along with the FDA investigated the source of the bacteria outbreak and traced it to flour produced in November 2015 by US multinational manufacturing and marketing food company, General Mills, at their facility in Kansas City, Missouri. General Mills has issued a voluntary recall of 10 million pounds of flour produced between November 14 and December 4 2015, sold under three brand names: Gold Medal, Signature Kitchens and Gold Medal Wondra. The global company declared that flour part of the recall should be thrown away.

According to the New York Times, the main source of contamination of the flour may be through its exposure to manure, cattle, birds and other bacteria.

“E. coli is a gut bug that can spread from a cow doing its business in the field, or it could live in the soil for a period of time; and if you think about it, flour comes from the ground, so it could be a risk,” Adam Karcz, an infection preventionist at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis, stated.

In order to prevent such contamination, flour is normally cooked before it is consumed eliminating any potential pathogens. In commercial uses like ‘raw’ cookie-dough ice cream, companies generally heat it to banish bacteria.

Symptoms associated with the bacterial infection include: severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody) and vomiting. Most people recover within a week, however, in some cases, infections can lead to a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome. Those who are most vulnerable to severe illness are children under 5, elder adults and people with weakened immune systems.

It is a sad day for raw cookie dough lovers, but luckily they can still enjoy a delicious cookie or two, or five when they are fresh out of the oven.

Source: NY Times