June 30, 2016 — Most people know they shouldn’t eat raw dough because eggs might have Salmonella. Now the FDA is warning about E. coli in the flour.
Last month, General Mills recalled about 10 million pounds of flour due to E. coli contamination that sickened 38 people in 20 states.
E. coli can contaminate grain from bird droppings, cow manure, or dirty water sprayed on fields. When the grain is milled into flour, it is not usually heat-treated before it is packaged and sold.
That means you can get sick with E. coli from eating raw cookie dough, cake batter, boxed baking mixes, cross-contamination in your kitchen, and dusting flour on tortillas and pizza crusts.
The FDA specifically warns parents of children in daycare or kindergarten who use “play dough” made with homemade dough:
“Even if they’re not munching on the dough, they’re putting their hands in their mouth after handling the dough. Childcare facilities and preschools should discourage the practice of playing with raw dough.”
E. coli is killed in foods that are heated to an internal temperature of 140ºF, but raw flour does not go through this “kill-step” because it might negatively impact bread rising.
The FDA says it is probably safe to eat ice cream with chunks of cookie dough because it is pasteurized and meant to be eaten raw. However, you might want to avoid eating pre-packaged cookie dough from the refrigerated section of your grocery store.
In 2009, Nestlé Toll House cookie dough was recalled after an outbreak of E. coli sickened 76 people in 31 states. No illnesses were linked to Pillsbury cookie dough because the flour was heat-treated.
Healthy adults who are infected with E. coli typically experience severe abdominal cramps and bloody diarrhea for about a week. However, people with vulnerable immune systems — especially children — can develop a life-threatening type of kidney failure known as Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS).
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