It's not just raw eggs you need to worry about when you sneak a bite of raw cookie dough. According to the FDA, your flour could contain E.coli. Once baked or heated, the bacteria is killed, but the spoonful of raw dough isn't worth the risk.
Credit: YinYang

Tempting as it may be, sneaking a bite of raw cookie dough is taboo because of the risk of contracting salmonella from the raw eggs. But now a new ingredient just might be harboring another type of potentially deadly bug, and no, egg-less cookie dough can't help here. This week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning to consumers about the danger of eating raw dough due to a recent outbreak of E.coli in flour.

Most people don’t realize that flour can contain disease-carrying bacteria. However, since December 2015, 38 people in 20 states have likely been sickened by E. coli bacteria in flour. Cookie dough might be the most obvious batter no-no, but any dough that isn't cooked is potentially contaminated.

The FDA believes it has traced the source of the outbreak to a General Mills facility in Kansas City, Missouri. Earlier this month, General Mills voluntarily recalled 10 million pounds of flour to due the possible E. coli contamination. Brands in the recall include Gold Medal, Signature Kitchen, and Gold Medal Wondra brands. Unbleached, all-purpose, and self-rising flours are all in the recall. Consumers that have these products at home are encouraged to throw them away.

The symptoms of an E. coli infection include diarrhea and abdominal cramps. However, some illnesses are more severe, last longer, and can even result in kidney failure. Children, elderly individuals, and those with compromised immune systems are most likely to be affected by the contaminated food.

“Flour is derived from a grain that comes directly from the field and typically is not treated to kill bacteria,” said Leslie Smoot, Ph.D., a senior advisor in the FDA’s Office of Food Safety and a specialist in the microbiological safety of processed foods. A “kill-step,” such as baking, microwaving, or frying, is usually used to cook any food products with flour, so the bacteria is killed. Without this step or even before this step, however, the flour may contain traces of bacteria or disease-carrying pathogens that can make you very ill if you consume them.

We recommend storing your flour in a cool, dry place, and seal out as much as air possible once it is opened. When it comes to raw dough, consumers should avoid consuming it entirely, and parents should make sure that their children are not coming in contact with any raw or “play” dough. We know it's tempting to scrape the bowl for an innocent bite of cookie dough, but it's just not worth the risk.