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Cook Your Mother’s Day Cookies!

By Kate Levinson, MPH, MA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Of course raw cookie dough isn’t as sweet as Mom–but it might be a close second! As you bake up a batch of Mother’s Day cookies, or help Mom with her famous family recipe, keep this information in mind to keep yourself and your mom safe.

Cracking the Cookie Dough Case

May 2009, we learned about a number of people who became sick from E. coli O157, a germ that can cause stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, and can even be life-threatening.

CDC and state and local health departments began to investigate. We originally suspected ground beef was making people sick. It is one of the “usual suspects” for E. coli O157, along with leafy greens and sprouts. But as we learned about more and more people who were infected with the same specific strain of E. coli O157, we noticed that they were generally young and female, which isn’t what we normally see in outbreaks linked to ground beef.

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Our disease detectives asked the people who were affected by this outbreak many questions and had them talk about everything that they had eaten and done the week before they became sick, looking for things in common among them. The mother of a sick child mentioned that he had eaten raw, prepackaged cookie dough during the days before he became sick. Another person who had been ill told us she ate ice cream with cookie dough and brownie mix-ins at an ice cream shop (and, later, that she had also eaten raw, prepackaged cookie dough at home). Then another person mentioned eating raw cookie dough, and another.

When cookie dough was mentioned on a conference call between investigators from CDC and health departments in affected states, investigators in several states mentioned that an ill person in their state also reported eating raw cookie dough. It was a “Eureka” moment! Further investigation strengthened the link between eating raw prepackaged, cookie dough and becoming ill. As a result of the investigation, the company recalled the product.

Resist Temptation: Don’t Lick that Spoon!

As gooey and delicious as it might look, eating raw cookie dough could make you very sick. When handling raw cookie dough, keep these safety tips in mind:

- Do not eat any raw cookie dough or any other raw dough product that’s supposed to be cooked or baked.

- Follow package directions for cooking at proper temperatures and for specified times.

- Wash hands, work surfaces, and utensils thoroughly after contact with raw dough products.

- Keep raw foods separate from other foods while preparing them to prevent any contamination that might be present from spreading.

- Follow label directions to chill products promptly after purchase and after using them.

For more information, check out these resources:

E. coli

Consumer Advisory: FDA Continues to Warn Against Eating Raw Dough for Cookies or Other Raw Dough Products before Cooking

E. coli Outbreak and Raw Cookie Dough [PODCAST]

Animal Planet: Killer Outbreaks: E. coli O157 [VIDEO]

More about the outbreak [BLOG]:

- Linking Raw Cookie Dough to an E. coli Outbreak

- The First Step in Identifying a Foodborne Outbreak…PulseNet

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This article first appeared May 8, 2012 on FoodSafety.gov

- Cookie Dough – Gooey, Sweet, and Seasoned with…Bacteria?!

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