Handle your raw dough with care

Whether you eat it or craft with it, re-think your habits of handling raw dough.

Wheat in a field.
Photo: Unsplash/Sohaib Jafar.

According to the National Agriculture Statistics Service, 425,000 acres of wheat were grown in Michigan in 2022. Several companies mill wheat in Michigan, such as Star of the West, creating wheat flour. What many consumers don’t realize is that flour from grains like wheat, or barley are a raw material much like eggs, that should not be eaten without being cooked. Flours made from oat, almond, flaxseed, or coconut could be eaten raw but will carry a different texture and cooking instructions than wheat flour.

The dangers of eating raw cookie dough have been talked about for years. However, there are also areas of concern involving other types of dough. How many times have you been tempted to sneak a bite of cake batter before it's baked? Or have you let your children play with raw dough to make ornaments or “play” clay? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, you may want to change your craft plans and snacking practices.

The Food and Drug Administration has posted information warning consumers to avoid eating any raw dough products because they may contain bacteria that can cause a foodborne illness. Cooking flour kills harmful bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli. To be safe, on items like packaged cookie dough, pizza dough or biscuits, everyone should follow cooking directions on the label.

An exception to this is some raw edible dough that is made with heat-treated flour and pasteurized eggs. The label will state if it is safe to eat raw (cookie dough used in commercial ice cream is a good example). Raw flour does carry a warning on the label that consuming it raw or undercooked can increase your risk of foodborne illness. When it comes to working with flour for crafts or making foods from scratch, regardless of the brand, think of an alternative flour that is safe to eat raw (oatmeal, almond, flaxseed, or coconut). There have been four major outbreaks since 2016 linked to raw flour or cake mix, as reported by The Center for Disease Control and Prevention. One person who was infected with E. coli from eating raw cake batter was a young girl named Harlee, and her message is even though it tastes good, it’s not worth it!

Flour comes from a grain, which is usually not treated to kill any bacteria it may have contracted. A source of bacteria may have been an animal tracking through a field and depositing animal waste, which is then harvested and ground into flour. If someone is consuming raw dough, no "kill step" has taken place (common kill-steps include boiling, baking, roasting, microwaving and frying). At this time, heat-treated flour is not available through common shopping outlets and it is not recommended to heat treat at home.

Symptoms to watch for if you have consumed raw dough products include stomach cramps, fever, vomiting or diarrhea. If you or a family member experiences any of these symptoms, contact a doctor immediately. It is very easy for anyone to become very ill or die from potential bacterial contamination from raw dough products. A person can be any age and be in good health, but the more susceptible people are those with weakened immune systems including someone very young, the elderly, someone on a particular medicine, such as a transplant recipient and pregnant women and their unborn babies.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration suggests following these safe-handling practices to stay healthy:

  • Wash hands, work surfaces and utensils thoroughly before and after contact with raw dough products.
  • Avoid consuming raw cookie dough or any other raw dough that should be baked or cooked.
  • Follow directions for safe cooking at proper temperatures and for specified times.
  • Keep raw foods separate from other foods to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Follow label directions to refrigerate products immediately after purchase and after preparing or serving them.

Michigan State University Extension suggests also watching recall notices and following guidelines when there is a recall. The MSU Extension-managed Think Food Safety Facebook page posts recall notices regularly. It is also important to re-think some of the past practices with arts and crafts with children, making sure efforts are made to avoid possible contact with raw products. For more information about food safety, visit MSU Extension's Safe Food & Water website.

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