The surprising reason the FDA is warning against eating raw cookie dough

Every cookie dough lover knows eating the stuff raw is risky because uncooked eggs could result in salmonella exposure. But the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is adding extra weight to that risk after reporting an outbreak of sicknesses linked to flour used in various dough. That raw flour may contain a bacteria called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O121,  the agency said in an advisory issued Tuesday.

The FDA pointed out in its warning that some flour brands have recalled their products, but that consumers may not realize raw dough used in children’s crafts— like clay kids commonly play with while waiting for their food at restaurants— still poses a health risk. The FDA has advised restaurants and schools against allowing children to play with raw dough, and for fans of cookie dough ice cream to buy the treat from a manufacturer rather than make it from scratch.

“Flour is derived from a grain that comes directly from the field and typically is not treated to kill bacteria,” Leslie Smoot, Ph.D., a senior advisor in FDA’s Office of Food Safety and a specialist in the microbiological safety of processed foods, said in the advisory. If an animal defecates, bacteria from the waste may poison the grain that goes onto be harvested and milled into flour.

Raw dough is risky to eat because no “kill step” occurs prior to consumption. Kill steps that eradicate infection-linked bacteria include boiling, baking, roasting, microwaving and frying, according to the FDA.

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