At the 2010 International Association for Food Protection meeting in Anaheim, CA, speakers from such food giants as Nestlé and ConAgra went public with their concerns about the widespread practice of people eating not just raw cookie dough but even raw frozen pizza. That discussion, which was prompted by a severe 2009 E. coli outbreak, included mention of the fact that some people — new immigrants and college students were named — were either unaware of cooking instructions or chose to ignore them. Six years later, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has decided to do something about the problem by simply warning people not to eat raw dough or batter no matter whether it’s for bread, cookies, pizza, tortillas or anything else. FDA this week warned the public that sampling raw dough or batter “could make you, and your kids, sick.” This current warning was prompted by the recent General Mills recall of 10 million pounds of flour sold under three brand names: Gold Medal, Signature Kitchens, and Gold Medal Wondra. The recalled varieties include unbleached, all-purpose, and self-rising flours. Flour has a long shelf life, and many people store bags of flour for a long time. If you have any of these recalled items in your home, FDA recommends that you throw them away. Some of the recalled flours had been sold to restaurants that allow children to play with dough made from the raw flour while waiting for their meals. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is advising restaurants not to give customers raw dough. The flour recall is associated with the ongoing investigation of an outbreak of infections that illustrates the dangers of eating raw dough. Dozens of people across the country have been sickened by a strain of bacteria called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O121. The investigation found that raw dough eaten or handled by some of the patients was made with General Mills flour produced in a facility in Kansas City, MO. Subsequent tests by FDA linked bacteria in a flour sample to bacteria from people who had become ill. Flour, regardless of the brand, can contain bacteria that cause disease. FDA states that people often understand the dangers of eating raw dough due to the presence of raw eggs and the associated risk with Salmonella. However, consumers should be aware that there are additional risks associated with the consumption of raw dough, such as particularly harmful strains of E. coli in a product such flour. “Flour is derived from a grain that comes directly from the field and typically is not treated to kill bacteria,” notes Leslie Smoot, Ph.D., a senior advisor in FDA’s Office of Food Safety and a specialist in the microbiological safety of processed foods. So if an animal heeds the call of nature in the field, bacteria from that animal’s waste could contaminate the grain, which is then harvested and milled into flour. Common “kill steps” applied during food preparation and/or processing (so-called because they kill bacteria that cause infections) include boiling, baking, roasting, microwaving, and frying. But with raw dough, no kill step has been used. Homemade cookie dough ice cream isn’t a good idea either. If that’s your favorite flavor, FDA suggests buying commercially made products since manufacturers should be using ingredients that include treated flour and pasteurized eggs.
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