Cold winter nights often call for baking sweet treats and sipping hot cocoa. While we get comfy and cozy, we should not negate the importance of food safety practices while preparing our winter goodies, especially cookies and other tasty baked goods.
While we often recommend our safe food-handling practices like using clean utensils, cooking foods to their proper temperatures and storing foods properly to help reduce the risk of foodborne illness, an additional VERY important food safety fact to cling to is not consuming raw foods that are designed to be cooked before eating them. Many of us would expect chicken, meat and eggs to be on the raw food no-no list but might be surprised that it includes raw cookie dough and other raw dough. It comes down to the safe handling and consumption of flour and eggs.
Your Best Batter Behavior
Flour and eggs are baking basics for sure, but they are not perfectly innocent when it comes to considering food safety threats. Of course, flour is used to make lots of baked goods: cookies, cakes, breads and everything in between. However, flour is an agricultural food product that is designed to be cooked before it is consumed. This means that some bacterial contaminants from the grains used to produce the flour can still remain in the product before it is cooked, namely Escherichia coli (E. coli).Consumption of harmful strains of E. coli can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, pneumonia and other illnesses as well.
This same line of food safety reasoning should be used when avoiding eating raw eggs. Raw eggs can harbor Salmonella bacteria. Salmonella infections can cause many symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea and gastrointestinal pain. Typically symptoms occur within 6 to 48 hours after eating contaminated food. While most people can recover from Salmonella infections without antibiotics, children, older adults and others with weaker immune systems may need medical attention.
Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted how dangerous these microbial contaminants can be while baking and advised these steps while prepping for your next baking bash:
- Adults and children should not taste any amount (big or small) of raw dough or batter. This includes dough for cookies, tortillas, pizza, biscuits, pancakes, or crafts made with raw flour (homemade play dough or holiday ornaments).
- Follow the flour or baking mix package directions to prepare foods at the proper temperature and for the specified time.
- Do not use raw, homemade cookie dough in ice cream, milkshakes or other uncooked meals, snacks or beverages. One should also note that cookie dough ice cream sold in stores contains dough that has been treated to kill harmful bacteria.
- Keep raw foods such as flour (which can spread easily because it is a powder) and eggs separate from ready-to-eat foods.
- Follow label directions to refrigerate products containing raw dough or eggs until they are ready to be cooked.
- Wash your hands with running water and soap after handling flour, raw eggs or any surfaces that either of them has touched. Also, wash bowls, utensils, countertops, and other surfaces with warm, soapy water.
Eating any raw food that is not produced to be consumed as such is a gamble. We suggest skipping the raw cookie dough no matter how tempting it is, even if you have done it in the past and avoided getting sick. In the cases of both E. coli and Salmonella or any other microbial contaminant, here are some tips for addressing foodborne illness if you suspect you’ve eaten something contaminated.
The best way to avoid foodborne illness and stay safe this holiday season (and all year long) is to practice safe food handling. While the U.S. has one of the safest food supply chains in the world, we still need to be proactive to avoid getting sick from potential bacterial contamination.