Everyone tells us it’s not safe to eat raw cookie dough, but here’s the thing: we do it anyway. It’s like sticking Q-tips in our ears. We know that they pose tangible risks, but they are also some of the purest simple pleasures in the world – and for that reason alone, there’s no warning in the world loud enough to keep cookie dough out of our mouths and cotton swabs out of our ear canals. But raw cookie dough – especially the kind that comes premade and prepackaged – has raised some major red flags for its link to unsavory food-borne pathogens like E. coli. A recent study urges food manufacturers to get realistic with their products’ end destination and consider offering cookie dough that is not just ready-to-bake, but ready-to-eat.
The study in question, published in the academic journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, is titled “A Novel Vehicle for Transmission of Escherichia coli O157:H7 to Humans.” (Check it out in full here.) As one might guess, that novel vehicle is raw prepackaged cookie dough. The study follows a 2009 E. coli outbreak, during which 77 people fell ill and 3.6 million packages of Nestlé Toll House raw prepackaged cookie dough were recalled.
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The study analyzes medical records of patients involved in the outbreak. It was found that a staggering 94 percent of those who fell ill had eaten ready-to-bake raw cookie dough, in spite of warnings on the label to cook before eating. The authors of the study also noted that the trend of eating raw cookie dough is especially prevalent among adolescent girls – 71 percent of those sickened by the cookie dough were under 19 years old (and it’s quite possible that the other 23 percent were simply adolescent girls in spirit).
Interestingly enough, while most people assume that raw eggs are the prime danger in raw cookie dough, head researcher Karen Neil and her team actually suspect raw flour of carrying the E. coli bacteria and put this at the forefront of their study findings. “Food processors should consider the use of pasteurized flour in ready-to-cook or ready-to-bake foods that are likely to be consumed without cooking or baking, even though label statements may warn against consuming uncooked product,” reads the report, which also added that “more effective consumer education about the risks of eating unbaked cookie dough is needed.”
It seems logical that manufacturers will take this study into consideration and go to greater lengths to ensure their customers’ safety, especially given what they now must know about eating habits in spite of all safety instructions. But in the meantime, stay away from the raw cookie dough. (Good luck.)