How many of us are guilty of tasting a raw dough while baking is going on or letting your children scrape the bowl after the dough has been put in an oven?
If you are, then you might want to reconsider. Eating raw dough or batter—whether it’s for bread, cookies, pizza or tortillas—could make you, and your kids, sick, says Jenny Scott, a senior advisor in FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
Scott is strongly against consuming raw dough. And the reason is simple. Shiga toxin-producing E. coli are found in these and cause diarrhea (often bloody) and abdominal cramps. But some illnesses last longer and can be more severe, resulting in a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).
Flour, regardless of the brand, can contain bacteria that cause disease. In 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local officials, investigated an outbreak of infections that illustrated the dangers of eating raw dough. Dozens of people across the country were sickened by a strain of bacteria called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O121.
The investigation found that raw dough eaten or handled by some of the patients was made with flour found in subsequent tests by the FDA to have the same bacterium that was making people sick. Ten million pounds of flour were recalled, including unbleached, all-purpose, and self-rising varieties.
“Flour is derived from a grain that comes directly from the field and typically is not treated to kill bacteria,” says Leslie Smoot, Ph.D., a senior advisor in FDA’s Office of Food Safety and a specialist in the microbiological safety of processed foods. So if an animal heeds the call of nature in the field, bacteria from the animal waste could contaminate the grain, which is then harvested and milled into flour.
Common “kill steps” applied during food preparation and/or processing (so-called because they kill bacteria that cause infections) include boiling, baking, roasting, microwaving, and frying. But with raw dough, no kill step has been used.
And don’t make homemade cookie dough ice cream either. If that’s your favorite flavor, buy commercially made products. Manufacturers should use ingredients that include treated flour and pasteurized eggs.
Parents of young children should be particularly aware. For instance, if your child is in day care or kindergarten, a common pastime may be art using “play” clay that is homemade from raw 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.