Many Americans (including myself) love to bake and eat cookies during the holiday season, as well as throughout the year. I know I am not alone in that I also would love to pop some of the raw dough into my mouth when I am baking. In the past, the general thinking was that if one would just use pasteurized eggs in making the cookies or just buy refrigerated cookie dough, any harmful organisms that might be present in the eggs would be eliminated and thus the dough would be safe to eat raw.
However, an outbreak of E.coli in 2009 that was linked to purchased ready-to-BAKE (not ready-to-EAT!) cookie dough changed this thinking. This dough used pasteurized eggs which appeared to be handled correctly. So what ingredient was making people sick? Although investigators were not able to definitively identify the problem ingredient, it appears that the flour may have been contaminated with E.coli. Many manufacturers of commercial cookie dough now use heat-treated flour, which will reduce the risk of foodborne illness; however, it is still safest to bake the cookies before eating them, as the package clearly states.
Most home bakers do not use heat-treated flour (which is not currently readily available for consumers to purchase), so if you are making cookies at home this holiday season (or anytime), it is safest to bake them before eating. I have found that you also end up with more cookies if you don’t eat the dough! :) If you have a hankering for cookie dough (as I do!), you can safely consume cookie dough ice cream or similar products where the cookie dough has been heat-treated for safe consumption. There are also recipes online for cookie dough made with cooked garbanzo beans and no flour that would be safer to consume.
Enjoy the holiday season safely! No one wants to have foodborne illness over the holidays, so following some simple food safety practices can help ensure that. For more information, see Tips for safe as well as delicious holiday meals.
Contributor: Londa Nwadike, PhD, Extension Food Safety Specialist, firstname.lastname@example.org, 816-655-6258