Turns out mom was right: Keep your hands off the raw cookie dough.
Photo Credit: NY Times
A new study that investigated the cause of a large outbreak of E. coli in 2009 pointed the blame at raw chocolate chip cookie dough. The researchers say it is the first time an outbreak of food poisoning caused by the dangerous Shiga toxin-producing E. coli has been traced to store-bought, ready-to-bake cookie dough or a similar product. The outbreak, between March and July 2009, sickened at least 80 people across 30 states, 35 of whom had to be hospitalized.
Anyone who has ever baked homemade cookies knows how tempting the batter can be. And although most people are aware that sneaking a bite carries a risk, that knowledge apparently is not much of a deterrent. A 2008 study of risky eating behaviors among college students found that 53 percent admitted to eating unbaked homemade cookie dough.
In the new study, published in the latest issue of the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, several of the people who were sickened bought the contaminated cookie dough with the sole intention of eating it raw. “They had no plans to actually bake cookies,” the authors reported.
Prudent chefs and parents everywhere usually cite a single cookie dough ingredient – raw eggs, which can carry Salmonella – as the reason to bake before eating. But the study, led by Dr. Karen Neil, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that the culprit in this case was likely not eggs, but flour.
“Out of all the ingredients, raw flour is the only raw agricultural product that was in the cookie dough,” Dr. Neil said. “It didn’t undergo any specific processing to kill pathogens, so we feel that’s the most likely suspect for what may have introduced contamination into the cookie dough. We couldn’t prove it conclusively, but that’s what we suspect.”