Cookie Dough’s Surprising Danger

It’s only Tuesday, and yet this week has already brought big news for raw eggs and teenage girls. For as long as the latter have subsisted on a steady diet of raw cookie dough, they’ve been told not to. Raw dough contains raw eggs, and raw eggs contain the potential for salmonella poisoning. Or worse: In 2009, an E. coli outbreak that sickened 77 people (mostly teenage girls and children) was traced to packages of Nestlé Toll House cookie dough.

But as NPR reports, a new study of the outbreak published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases has linked the outbreak to an ingredient that’s always enjoyed a rather faultless reputation, at least where food poisoning is concerned: flour. Just as there was shit in the spinach and the sprouts, it seems that there was shit in the flour.

The researchers fingered flour after ruling out ingredients like eggs, which were pasteurized, and sugar, molasses, and margarine, which were processed to kill pathogens. Flour, on the other hand, wasn’t treated, and therein lay the problem. Since flour is a raw, farmed product, it has ample opportunities for exposure to dirt and manure before it reaches the supermarket. Last year, Nestlé recognized the error of its ways after a Virginia factory scored a second batch of contaminated dough. The company subsequently announced it would begin heat-treating the flour used in its packaged cookie dough.

Public health experts have naturally taken this opportunity to remind everyone that, like everything else wonderful in life, raw cookie dough is bad for us. They’ve emphasized the warning to teenage girls, whom the study’s authors identified as major cookie-dough consumers.

Perhaps they should also take the opportunity to remind industrial food manufacturers to actually make their products safe for human consumption. But given that neither group responds well to being told what to do, not much is likely to change.

Image source: Flickr member ginnerobot under Creative Commons