The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning against raw dough this week, alerting the public to the presence of an outbreak of a bacteria that contaminated 10 million pounds of flour produced last November. This bad flour could get you or your kids sick, whether you eat raw cookie dough or your kids play with home-made play dough.
The FDA doesn’t just want to rain on your parade — the outbreak is serious. So far, a reported 38 people in 20 states have been infected by the Shiga toxin-producing bacteria E. coli O121. The infections began last December, and 10 of the infected have been hospitalized. Symptoms include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting — a.k.a. absolutely no fun.
Many people recover in under a week, but sometimes the infection can lead to severe kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome. Your kids are most vulnerable (especially under 5 years old), along with older adults and people with weakened immune systems.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA traced the source of the outbreak to flour produced last November at the General Mills facility in Kansas City, Missouri. General Mills issued a voluntary recall of 10 million pounds of flour produced from November 14 to December 4, sold under the brand names Gold Medal, Signature Kitchens, and Gold Medal Wondra. Such flour should be thrown away.
Many people do not think of flour as a contamination risk, especially compared to other raw foods such as eggs or meat. “Flour is not the type of thing that we commonly associate with pathogens,” Jenny Scott, a senior adviser in the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, told The New York Times.
Adam Karcz, an infection preventionist at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis, Indiana, explained the causes of E. coli. Karcz explained that the bacteria “is a gut bug that can spread from a cow doing its business in the field, or it could live in the soil for a period of time; and if you think about it, flour comes from the ground, so it could be a risk.” In this case, investigators believe the grain became contaminated in the field, which was exposed to manure, cattle, birds, and other bacteria.
Cookie dough is tasty, and home-made play dough can be very fun, but are they worth the risk of infection?
Luckily, “raw”cookie dough flavored ice cream is not off-limits, since companies heat up that dough to treat it for bacteria. Hopefully that can hold us over until this outbreak is over.