Don’t eat the raw dough during holiday baking

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By Tracy Turner | Ohio State Chow Line

Q: “Is it safe to lick the bowl when making cakes or cookies?”

A: No, it’s not.

While it’s that time of year when holiday cookies reign supreme, it’s also a good time of year to warn folks against eating foods with raw eggs for fear of contracting salmonella or other foodborne illnesses. Raw flour is also not safe to eat, because it too can cause a mean case of foodborne illness, said Shari Gallup, family and consumer sciences educator for Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

Although many people might love the taste of raw cookie dough or raw cake or brownie batter, eating it can make you sick. Raw or undercooked eggs can cause salmonella poisoning, which can result in fever, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea, while raw flour can harbor dangerous bacteria that can also cause significant illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This is because flour is derived from untreated grain and might be contaminated with bacteria such as E. coli. Symptoms of an E. coli infection can include severe stomach pain, diarrhea, and vomiting and occur typically within three to four days of consumption. Most people typically recover from illness associated with salmonella and E. coli within a week.

For example, two outbreaks of E. coli infections linked to raw flour made more than 80 people sick in 2016 and 2019, according to the CDC.

Flour can become contaminated with bacteria directly in a field where it is grown as a grain. This can occur if an animal defecates in the field, causing bacteria from the animal waste to potentially contaminate the grain, which is then harvested and milled into flour, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli that might be present in raw dough are killed in the cooking process, the FDA says.

To avoid any potential bouts of foodborne illnesses, the CDC recommends the following:

  • Do not taste or eat any raw dough or batter, whether for cookies, tortillas, pizza, biscuits, or pancakes. Also avoid tasting or eating crafts made with raw flour such as homemade modeling clay or holiday ornaments.
  • Keep raw foods such as flour or eggs separate from ready-to-eat foods. This is because flour is a powder and can spread easily.
  • Do not let children play with or eat raw dough, including dough for crafts.
  • Follow the recipe or package directions for cooking or baking at the proper temperature and for the specified time.
  • Throw out any old flour and thoroughly wash out the container or bin used for flour storage, before adding in a new bag of flour.

It’s also important to clean up thoroughly and wash your hands with running water and soap after handling flour, raw eggs, or any surfaces that they have touched. That includes washing bowls, utensils, countertops, and other surfaces with warm, soapy water, Gallup said.

For those folks who really enjoy the taste of cookie dough, there are several safe options to try, she said.

“Since it was announced that eating raw cookie dough was unsafe, I have noticed many new products at the grocery store as manufacturers have begun to make ‘edible raw cookie dough,’” Gallup said. “Some of the products come in small tubs, tubes, or premade portions, but all are clearly marked as ‘edible’ cookie dough.

“And if you don’t want to purchase the edible cookie dough from the store, it is easy to make your own safe, edible cookie dough, and there are now many recipes online. Most edible cookie dough recipes include heating the flour to kill any bacteria prior to adding it to other ingredients and using only pasteurized eggs.”

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line author Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

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