With the holiday season just about in full swing, many cooks will be in the kitchen preparing all kinds of tasty goodies. But if you have a hard time resisting a taste of raw cookie dough or licking the cake batter off the spatula, this habit could cause a problem.
Eating raw dough or batter, whether it is for bread, cookies, cakes or even pizza crust, can make you and your family sick, said Barbara Brown, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension food specialist.
“Most of the time we think it’s the raw eggs in dough and batter than can make us sick. However, the flour in these foods can contain bacteria that can cause disease,” Brown said. “A couple of years ago the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, investigated an outbreak of infections that illustrated the dangers of eating raw dough. It turns out these people were sickened by a strain of bacteria called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli 0121.”
The investigation discovered raw dough eaten or handled by some of the patients was made with flour that was found in subsequent tests by the FDA to have the same bacterium that was making people sick. Ten million pounds of flour were recalled.
“Keep in mind it’s not just food we consume. Some craft projects such as homemade dough ornaments use flour. This often is a popular craft project in schools and daycare centers,” she said. “There are restaurants that give children dough to play with while waiting for their meals. Anything made with raw flour can cause a health risk.”
Flour is derived from a grain that comes directly from the field and typically is not treated to kill bacteria. Bacterial from animal waste could contaminate grain, which is later harvested and milled into flour.
When foods containing flour are baked, broiled, roasted, microwaved or fried, any bacteria in the flour is destroyed. But with raw dough, the bacteria are alive and well.
Brown said parents of young children should be especially aware.
“Be aware if your child participates in activities where they use play clay made from homemade raw dough. Even if they aren’t eating the dough, they’re likely putting their hands in their mouth after handing the dough,” she said. “I don’t recommend childcare facilities and preschools use play clay.”
The best ways to keep yourself and your family healthy include not eating raw cookie dough, cake mix, batter or any other raw dough or batter product that should be cooked or baked; following package directions for cooking foods containing flour; wash your hands, utensils and work surfaces thoroughly after contact with flour and raw dough products; keep raw foods separate from other foods while preparing them to prevent cross-contamination; and follow label directions to chill products containing raw dough promptly after purchase until baked.
“While it may be tempting to pinch off a bite of dough or let the kids scrape the bowl after you’ve mixed up some cookie dough, it just isn’t a good idea,” Brown said. “Following these tips will help keep everyone in your family healthy.”
Story by Trisha Gedon