By Lauren Glendenning, For Memorial Regional Health

With Holiday Baking Season in Full Force, Beware of the Dangers That Lurk in Uncooked Doughs and Batters

What’s one or two little licks of raw cookie dough from the spoon while you’re preparing holiday cookies this season?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that you should never eat raw dough or batter due to bacteria that can be present in raw flour and eggs. This bacteria is killed during the cooking process, but when eaten raw, it can cause foodborne illness, said Madysen Jourgensen, registered dietitian at Memorial Regional Health.

“When we bake cookie dough, the heat kills any bacteria that may be present in it,” she said. “Without the cooking process to eliminate this bacteria, we run the risk of contracting a foodborne illness.”

Raw Flour and Eggs

In 2016 and 2019, raw flour was responsible for two outbreaks of Escherichia coli, or E. coli, infections, according to the CDC. Because flour and baking mixes have long shelf lives, it’s important to check your pantry to verify whether or not you have products on your shelves that have been recalled due to bacteria contamination. 

“Flour doesn’t look like a raw food, but typically it is. This means it hasn’t been treated to kill germs such as E. coli, which causes food poisoning,” according to the CDC. “Harmful germs can contaminate grain while it’s still in the field or at other steps during flour production. Processing steps like grinding grain and bleaching flour do not kill germs like E. coli.”

Raw eggs contain salmonella, a different germ that causes food poisoning. Eggs are safe to eat when cooked and handled properly, but not when they’re raw, according to the CDC. 

‘But I Do It All the Time’

Just because you’ve eaten raw dough or batter in the past and haven’t gotten sick doesn’t mean it’s safe to do so again, Jourgensen warns. 

“We are always at risk for foodborne illness when consuming raw cookie dough. Those with compromised immune systems are at an especially higher risk for foodborne illness from consuming raw or undercooked foods because their bodies may not be equipped to fight off bacteria as efficiently as an otherwise healthy adult,” Jourgensen said. “Dietitians and other healthcare professionals would not focus so heavily on preventing foodborne illness if we thought that it wasn’t something important to be aware of and avoid.”

Instead, Jourgensen said to look for recipes for edible cookie dough, which eliminate the raw eggs and call for the flour to be toasted in the oven prior to mixing. 

“Many of these recipes do taste the same as your regular cookie doughs, so you likely wouldn’t even be able to tell a difference,” Jourgensen said, adding that she’s tried these recipes before and has been pleasantly surprised. “There are also edible cookie dough recipes online that don’t call for eggs or flour so you can eliminate the risk from those two ingredients all together.”

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of foodborne illness don’t occur immediately. It can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days depending on which bacteria you ingest, Jourgensen said. 

Diarrhea, nausea and abdominal cramping typically occur with both E. coli and salmonella-related foodborne illnesses. Other symptoms of salmonella-related illness include vomiting, fever, chills and headache, according to the Mayo Clinic. 

The symptoms of E. coli usually occur 3 to 4 days after swallowing the germ, while salmonella symptoms begin 6 hours to 6 days after ingesting contaminated food, according to the CDC.

MRH Rapid Care

If you’re experiencing foodborne illness symptoms, visit MRH Rapid Care, open Monday through Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Raw Dough/Batter Handling Tips

  • Do not taste or eat any raw dough or batter, whether for cookies, tortillas, pizza, biscuits, pancakes or crafts made with raw flour, such as homemade play dough or holiday ornaments.
  • Do not let children play with or eat raw dough, including dough for crafts.
  • Bake or cook raw dough and batter, such as cookie dough and cake mix, before eating.
  • Follow the recipe or package directions for cooking or baking at the proper temperature and for the specified time.
  • Do not make milkshakes with products that contain raw flour, such as cake mix.
  • Do not use raw homemade cookie dough in ice cream. Cookie dough ice cream sold in stores contains dough that has been treated to kill harmful bacteria.
  • Keep raw foods such as flour or eggs separate from ready-to-eat foods. Because flour is a powder, it can spread easily.
  • Follow label directions to refrigerate products containing raw dough or eggs until they are cooked.
  • Clean up thoroughly after handling flour, eggs or raw dough.
  • Wash your hands with running water and soap after handling flour, raw eggs or any surfaces they have touched.
  • Wash bowls, utensils, countertops and other surfaces with warm, soapy water.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention