Raw cookie dough and raw flour can cause foodborne illness

Raw dough can contain bacteria that causes disease because raw flour isn't typically treated to kill germs like Escherichia coli (E. coli).

Michigan State University Extension and the Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention (CDC) want consumers to be aware of a multistate outbreak of foodborne illness from E. coli O157: H7 that was reported from January 2005- July 2009. The number of reported cases as of June 30, 2009, as 369. 

This outbreak resulted in a recall of products made with flour, from cake mixes, cookie dough and raw flour. Recently at the Partnership for Food Safety Conference, a pre-conference session was held to discuss and examine the past outbreak and a more recent outbreak in 2016. This more recent large outbreak of E.coli- infections made people sick in 24 states. Food safety detectives linked the illnesses to flour sold under several brand names, including Gold Medal, Gold Medal Wondra and Signature Kitchens. Consumers were advised to check packages for lot numbers and if the product was no longer in the original container or bag to throw it out.

As reported by the CDC and discussed during the conference, raw dough can contain bacteria that causes disease. Flour is typically a raw agricultural product. This means it hasn't been treated to kill germs like Escherichia coli (E. coli). These harmful germs can contaminate grain while it's still in the field or at other steps as flour is produced. The bacteria are killed when food made with flour is cooked. During the investigation of this outbreak some investigators suspected that it was salmonella from eggs, but it was soon determined that this specific outbreak was caused by the raw flour and E-coli.

The Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention and MSU Extension offers these tips for safe food handling practices when you are baking and cooking with flour and other raw ingredients. Here is what you need to know it keep you and your family safe from E-coli. 

  • Do not taste or eat any raw dough or batter for cookies, tortillas, pizza, biscuits, pancakes, or crafts made with raw flour, such as homemade play dough or holiday ornaments.
  • Do not let children play with or eat raw dough, including dough for crafts.
  • Always bake or cook raw dough and batter, such as cookie dough and cake mix, before eating.
  • Do not make milkshakes with products that contain raw flour, such as cake mix.
  • Do not use raw, homemade cookie dough in ice cream. Cookie dough ice cream sold in stores contains dough that has been treated to kill harmful bacteria.
  • Follow the recipe or package directions for cooking or baking at the proper temperature and for the specified time.
  • Keep raw foods such as flour or eggs separate from ready-to eat-foods. Because flour is a powder, it can spread easily.
  • Clean up thoroughly after handling flour, eggs or raw dough. Wash your hands with running water and soap after handling flour, raw eggs or any surfaces that they have touched. Wash bowls, utensils, countertops and other surfaces with hot water and soap.

Following these guidelines will help to keep you and your family safe from foodborne illness that may be caused by raw flour and raw dough. 

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