Eating raw cookie dough is a common practice while baking – a delicious part of the process. In doing so, people have been warned to avoid dough that contains raw eggs. But it’s actually the flour used in making cookies that may be more dangerous.
A new study confirmed that raw flour containing E.coli bacteria was responsible for an outbreak in 2016, Gizmodo reports.
Last year, General Mills had to recall three of its flour products, namely Gold Medal Flour, Gold Medal Wondra Flour and Signature Kitchens Flour, after a sudden increase in E. coli cases. The recall amounted to around 10 million pounds of flour. At the time, E.coli was already a suspect, triggering an investigation into the matter.
That particular investigation is over, the results of which were documented and confirmed in The New England Journal of Medicine.
As it turns out, the dry, powdery flour can host many different pathogens, even if it sounds highly improbable.
From December 2015 to September 2016, there were 56 cases of E. coli reported across 24 states nationwide. While no one died, one patient ended up with a severe form of kidney failure, or hemolytic uremic syndrome, caused by an E. coli infection. Early in 2016, the US Centers for Disease Control identified the strain of bacteria as belonging to the serogroup O121, prompting the investigation that led to the link between the infections and flour.
When scientists interviewed those who had fallen ill, the patients recalled having eaten raw cookie dough or batter while baking. They had come down with symptoms such as diarrhea, fever and vomiting. More importantly, 85% of the patients baked using the same brand of flour, allowing the researchers to trace the outbreak to one flour processing facility.
According to experts, dangerous organisms found in wheat and other ingredients “can survive the drying process and remain viable in flour for months” while in a dehydrated state – worrying news as raw flour is not generally considered a host for foodborne infections.
There are around 265,000 cases of E. coli in the US each year, and some of these can actually be prevented by staying away from raw cookie dough.