Public health worries don’t have to ruin your cookie dough

The following three statements are all true: Eating cookie dough can be dangerous, even after we’ve dealt with any raw eggs.

If it seems implausible that all three of those statements can be simultaneously true.

To start, when most people think about health risks and cookie dough, they think about raw egg. Eggs can be contaminated with salmonella bacteria, and food safety recommendations encourage people to cook eggs until the white and yolk are firm in order to kill any bacteria.

Instead, we use eggs that have been pasteurized to kill any harmful bacteria without actually cooking the egg itself. (A great public health innovation, if you ask me!) So, I wasn’t worried about the eggs in the cookie dough.

Now, there is another risk to consider in relation to raw cookie dough: the risk of the flour itself. Over the past two months, General Mills, Inc. first initiated and then expanded a voluntary recall of flour found to be contaminated with E. coli bacteria. While contamination of raw flour is rare, it can happen. Wheat grows in fields close to animals. When they “heed the call of nature,” as the FDA put it, wheat can become contaminated. In this recent outbreak, 38 people have been sickened since December 2015 and some have been hospitalized because they ate the recalled flour raw, often in the form of cookie dough. One went into kidney failure.

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