Food Safety Talk 118: Hand Size Matters

This episode has you covered from the top of your head to the tips of your lucky socks. Ben and Don dig into some 1980’s culture and shoot forward into the food on the future, and then back again. It’s a food (and pet) safety grab bag covering pineapple safety, hand sizes and hand sanitizers, safe raw cookie dough, rats, turtles, milk from camels, microgreens and toilet history.1485292970453

Episode 118 can be found here and on iTunes.

Here are some links so you can follow along at home.

Journalism needs expertise, not shrill, to survive: ‘FDA’s abstinence-only approach to eating cookie dough is unrealistic and alarmist’

My friend Jim e-mailed me the other day.

Says he still has bad thoughts when he hears a helicopter overhead.

temp.cookiesJim was a dairy farmer located on the edge of a town in Ontario, Canada, called Walkerton, and he said a lot of people were getting sick. The community knew there was a problem several days before health types went public.

On Sunday, May 21, 2000, at 1:30 p.m., the Bruce Grey Owen Sound Health Unit in Ontario, Canada, posted a notice to hospitals and physicians on their web site to make them aware of a boil water advisory and that a suspected agent in the increase of diarrheal cases was E. coli O157:H7.

There had been a marked increase in illness in the town of about 5,000 people, and many were already saying the water was suspect. But the first public announcement was also the Sunday of the Victoria Day long weekend and received scant media coverage.

It wasn’t until Monday evening that local television and radio began reporting illnesses, stating that at least 300 people in Walkerton were ill.

At 11:00 a.m., on Tuesday May 23, the Walkerton hospital jointly held a media conference with the health unit to inform the public of outbreak, make the public aware of the potential complications of the E. coli O157:H7 infection, and to tell the public to take the necessary precautions. This generated a print report in the local paper the next day, which was picked up by the national wire service Tuesday evening, and subsequently appeared in papers across Canada on May 24.

The public outreach efforts were neither speedy nor sufficient. Ultimately, 2,300 people were sickened and seven died – in a town of 5,000. All the gory details and mistakes and steps for improvement were outlined in the report of the Walkerton inquiry.

cookie.dough.teenage.girls“Whenever we heard a helicopter, it probably meant someone else had died.”

That outbreak took a huge toll, in numbers, and in personal memories.

The E. coli O157:H7 was thought to originate on a farm owned by a veterinarian and his family at the edge of town, someone my friend Jim knew well, a cow-calf operation that was the poster farm for Environmental Farm Plans. Heavy rains washed cattle manure into a long discarded well-head which was apparently still connected to the municipal system. The brothers in charge of the municipal water system for Walkerton were found to add chlorine based on smell rather than something minimally scientific like test strips, and were criminally convicted.

But the government-mandated reports don’t capture the day-to-day drama and stress that people like my friend experienced. Jim and his family knew many of the sick and dead. This was a small community. News organizations from around the province descended on Walkerton for weeks. They had their own helicopters, but the worst was the medical helicopters flying patients with hemolytic uremic syndrome to the hospital in London. Every time Jim saw one of those, he wondered if it was someone he knew.

That’s lost on L.V. Anderson, a Slate associate editor, who don’t know shit about science or food safety, gives it away when she writes, “educate yourself.”

That’s same motto of anyone on a crusade from anti-vaxxers, raw milk proponents, genetically-engineered food deniers and far too many scientists — and that’s just the tip of the food categories.

I’ve always preferred, if you want to make a choice, have access to evidence-based information (but keep kids out of it, parents are there to protect not politicize their children).

Academics and government regulators like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are not in the business of making value choices (although there have been missteps and critics will always argue).

nestle.cookie.doughThey provide information (hopefully).

Of course, they do make value choices, and the best way forward in an everything-is-on-the-Internet-to-support-my-pre-existing opinion is to blatantly state one’s value choices up front.

With food safety, mine are: fewer people barfing.

Scientists and regulators have a responsibility – a duty of care – to share what knowledge they have. I do that as a scientist, as a parent when I question various food safety activities at shool, as a hockey coach, and as a sports medic.

Anderson displays an astonishing naivety to those who have suffered from foodborne illness, especially for someone who lazily decries the nanny state, and offers no solutions.

Heat-treated flour has been available from Nestle since their E. coli outbreak involving Tollhouse cookies in 2009.

There are solutions.

raw.cookie.dough.e.coliAnderson writes that “a closer look at the reasons behind the FDA’s recommendations reveals that they might, just maybe, be exaggerating the risks of cookie dough. … Forty-two people in 21 states have contracted the flour-linked E. coli since December. No one has died. And yet the FDA’s response is to tell everyone—all 319 million Americans—not to eat any uncooked flour whatsoever. By comparison, the Chipotle E. coli outbreaks affected 60 people in 14 states, and the FDA didn’t respond by telling people not to eat at Chipotle.

I did.

Years ago.

Anderson goes on to write, in a long, terrible tradition of risk-comparisons are-risky that “The current outbreak is, in the grand scheme of things, very small. It’s true that the potentially effects of an E. coli infection are horrifying…. But your risk of ever contracting E. coli—whether from a spoonful of cake batter or a Chipotle burrito or a spinach salad or some other foodborne source—remains minuscule.

Until it happens to you.


No, nature did: FDA ruins raw cookie dough for everybody

Rachel Rabkin Peachman writes in a New York Times blog that maybe you’ve swiped a bite of raw cookie dough while preparing a batch to bake. Or perhaps you’ve let your children lick the batter from the cake bowl, or use homemade “play dough” to make crafts. But even if the dough is free of raw raw.cookie.dough.e.colieggs, which you think might give you a pass, don’t eat it.

Yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration issued a message warning people not to eat raw dough because of a recent outbreak of E. coli linked to contaminated flour.

So far, a reported 38 people in 20 states have been infected by a strain of bacteria called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O121 found in flour. The infections began last December, and 10 of those infected have been hospitalized.

Investigations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the F.D.A. traced the source of the outbreak to flour that was produced in November 2015 at the General Mills facility in Kansas City, Mo. General Mills has issued a voluntary recall of 10 million pounds of flour produced between Nov. 14 and Dec. 4, sold under three brand names: Gold Medal, Signature Kitchens and Gold Medal Wondra. Flour that is part of the recall should be thrown away.

Unlike other raw foods, like eggs or meat — which many people recognize as contamination risks — “flour is not the type of thing that we commonly associate with pathogens,” said Jenny Scott, a senior adviser in the F.D.A.’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

In this case, investigators believe that the grain became contaminated in the field, where it is exposed to manure, cattle, birds and other bacteria. “E. coli is a gut bug that can spread from a cow doing its business in the field, or it could live in the soil for a period of time; and if you think about it, flour comes from the ground, so it could be a risk,” said Adam Karcz, an infection preventionist at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis.

Normally, flour is cooked before it is consumed, destroying any pathogens. “For the most part, the risk from flour is pretty low, and most use of flour involves a ‘kill step’ — people bake with it,” Ms. Scott said. In commercial uses like “raw” cookie-dough ice cream, companies generally heat-treat it to eliminate bacteria, she said.

Consumers, then, need to be aware that they should follow food safety guidelines for flour. That means washing your hands thoroughly before and after handling raw flour. And Ms. Scott warned against letting children play with homemade play dough. “Kids are going to handle it and touch their faces, and they’re going to lick their fingers; it’s hard to supervise that,” she said.

FDA says raw dough’s a raw deal and could make you sick

Do you find it hard to resist gobbling up a piece of raw dough when making cookies, or letting your children scrape the bowl? Do your kids use raw dough to make ornaments or homemade “play” clay? Do you eat at family restaurants that give kids raw dough to play with while you’re waiting for the food?cookie.dough

If your answer to any of those questions is yes, that could be a problem. Eating raw dough or batter—whether it’s for bread, cookies, pizza or tortillas—could make you, and your kids, sick, says Jenny Scott, a senior advisor in FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

According to Scott, the bottom line for you and your kids is don’t eat raw dough. And even though there are websites devoted to “flour crafts,” don’t give your kids raw dough or baking mixes that contain flour to play with.

Why? Flour, regardless of the brand, can contain bacteria that cause disease. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local officials, is investigating 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-producingE. 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 Kansas City, Missouri, facility. Subsequent tests by the FDA linked bacteria in a flour sample to bacteria from people who had become ill.

General Mills conducted a voluntary recall of 10 million pounds of flour sold under three brand names: Gold Medal, Signature Kitchen’s, and Gold Medal Wondra. The 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, you should 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. CDC is advising restaurants not to give customers raw dough.

People often understand the dangers of not 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 like flour.

“Flour is derived from a grain that comes directly from the field and typically is not treated to kill bacteria,” says 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 the animal 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.

And don’t make homemade cookie dough ice cream either. If that’s your favorite flavor, buy commercially made products. Manufacturers should use ingredients that include treated flour and pasteurized eggs.

Common symptoms for Shiga toxin-producing E. coli are diarrhea (often bloody) and abdominal cramps, although most people recover within a week. But some illnesses last longer and can be more severe, resulting in a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS can occur in people of any age, but is most common in young children under 5 years, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems.

Parents of young children should be particularly aware. For instance, if your child is in day care or kindergarten, a common pastime may be art using “play” clay that is homemade from raw dough. Even if they’re not munching on the dough, they’re putting their hands in their mouth after handling the dough. Childcare facilities and preschools should discourage the practice of playing with raw dough.

FDA offers these tips for safe food handling to keep you and your family healthy:

-Do not eat any raw cookie dough, cake mix, batter, or any other raw dough or batter product that is supposed to be cooked or baked.

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

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

-Keep raw foods separate from other foods while preparing them to prevent any contamination that may be present from spreading. Be aware that flour may spread easily due to its powdery nature.

-Follow label directions to chill products containing raw dough promptly after purchase until baked.

E. coli O121 in flour: One bite of cookie dough left Spokane teen fighting for life

Alyssa Donovan of KXLY reports that Sydney Rypien was a healthy Spokane teenager and a three-sport athlete. Then she took a bite of raw cookie dough and ended up in the hospital soon afterward fighting for her life.

Sydney Rypien.e.coli.O121Rypien, 17, was baking cookies back in February when she took a bite of raw cookie dough.

“They say it’s just one bite. Just one tiny bite,” Rypien said.

A week after she ate the dough the teen had such bad cramps she could hardly stand.

“They ran a couple tests and within a day they knew it was E. coli,” she said.

She spent a week at Sacred Heart Medical Center where doctors told her if it weren’t for her athletic build this illness likely would’ve killed her.

“I was shedding like stomach lining, yeah it was bad. I lost a lot of weight in a week that was an unhealthy amount of weight to lose,” Rypien said.

Instead she is slowly recovering but it could be months before she fully recovers.

“I still don’t feel normal,” Rypien said.

This week Rypien learned how she contracted the deadly strain of E. coli. Health officials have tied Rypien’s E. coli and more than 30 others nationwide to General Mills flour. Today, 10 million pounds of flour have been pulled from the shelves. Rypien says a handful of the people sickened were young girls right around her age.

Missing more than 3 months of school the high school junior is still catching up.

“I’m doing fine and my teachers are really understanding so they are giving me a little leeway with that too and I’m doing my work. I’m cramming it out as much as I can,” she said.

Outside the classroom everyday tasks are harder now than they’ve ever been.

“Everything that was easy for me to do like volleyball or sports or activities or going out and hanging out with friends or visiting grandparents or family, it’s harder to do, my energy is just drained,” she said.

The effects of the illness could last up to a year but she’s grateful the recall will stop others from feeling the pain she is still dealing with.

“This is by far the worst pain I have been in in my entire life.”

Rypien says as she has recovered she’s had to be very careful about what she eats. She plans to continue eating healthier so that she never has to feel anything like that excruciating pain again. She also hopes this helps educate people that E. coli is not your typical foodborne illness. Its more dangerous, more painful and the effects can be long term.

Careful with that cookie dough: E. coli O157:H7 can survive in wheat (at least in the lab)

Escherichia coli O157:H7 is a human pathogen that can cause bloody diarrhea, hemorrhagic colitis, and hemolytic uremic syndrome. E. coli O157:H7 illnesses are mainly associated with undercooked beef; however, in recent years, outbreaks have been linked to fresh produce, such as spinach, lettuce, and sprouts. 2009, flour was implicated as the contamination source in an outbreak involving consumption of raw cookie dough that resulted in 77 illnesses. The objectives of this research were to determine (i) whether E. coli O157:H7 could be translocated into the internal tissues of wheat (Triticum aestivum) seedlings from contaminated seed, soil, or irrigation water and (ii) whether the bacterium could survive on flowering wheat heads. The levels of contamination of kanamycin-resistant E. coli O157:H7 strains in seed, soil, and irrigation water were 6.88 log CFU/g, 6.60 log CFU/g, and 6.76 log CFU/ml, respectively.

One hundred plants per treatment were sown in pot trays with 50 g of autoclaved soil or purposely contaminated soil, watered every day with 5 ml of water, and harvested 9 days postinoculation. In a fourth experiment, flowering wheat heads were spray inoculated with water containing 4.19 log CFU/ml E. coli O157:H7 and analyzed for survival after 15 days, near the harvest period. To detect low levels of internalization, enrichment procedures were performed and Biotecon real-time PCR detection assays were used to determine the presence of E. coli O157:H7 in the wheat, using a Roche Applied Science LightCycler 2.0 instrument.

The results showed that internalization was possible using contaminated seed, soil, and irrigation water in wheat seedlings, with internalization rates of 2, 5, and 10%, respectively. Even though the rates were low, to our knowledge this is the first study to demonstrate the ability of this strain to reach the phylloplane in wheat. In the head contamination experiment, all samples tested positive, showing the ability of E. coli O157:H7 to survive on the wheat head.


Transmission of Escherichia coli O157:H7 to internal tissues and its survival on flowering heads of wheat


Journal of Food Protection®, Number 3, March 2015, pp. 484-627, pp. 518-524(7)

Martinez, Bismarck; Stratton, Jayne; Bianchini, Andréia; Wegulo, Stephen; Weaver, Glen

USDA: Stop eating raw cookie dough

We don’t eat homemade cookie dough or cakes or cupcakes, like the ones Sorenne and Amy made for Sorenne’s birthday last night and delivered to her class this morning.

Australia has enough of a raw egg problem. to Pete Kasperowicz of The Blaze, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued an order that millions of Americans will likely find impossible to carry out: stop eating raw cookie dough.

“Avoid raw or partially cooked eggs or foods containing raw eggs, such as cookie dough,” USDA advised in an email over the weekend.

Carrying out that simple 15-word recommendation would radically change millions of lives, from families who routinely bake cookies and invite the kids to scoop batter out of the bowl, to people who scarf down pre-packaged cookie dough, to everyone who eats cookie dough found in ice cream.

Simply put, it’s not immediately clear that America is ready to take on USDA’s mission. But it’s also unclear if it’s necessary — there is something of a debate over whether it’s safe to eat cookie dough, or whether the risk of getting salmonella from raw eggs is too high.

cookiedoughSome, like, say it’s “actually really hard to get salmonella from eggs.” The site has an article up noting that bakers routinely eat batter and never get sick, and say the trick is in making sure the eggs are refrigerated.

And cookie dough found in ice cream is pasteurized, making it safe to eat, according to various online food experts.

But many still note the danger, and the 2009 recall of raw dough from Nestle that got dozens of people sick from E. coli. A Las Vegas mother died in 2013 of E. coli after eating raw cookie dough.


If flour is a source of dangerous E. coli, how is cross-contamination controlled in kitchen? Ready-to-bake cookie dough not ready-to-eat

 To all broken hearts: don’t eat prepackaged cookie dough before it’s baked.

That’s the message health-types conclude from a June 2009 outbreak of shiga-toxin producing E. coli (primarily O157:H7) in Nestle Toll House cookie dough that sickened at least 77 people in 30 states. Thirty-five people were hospitalized – from cookie dough.

The 2009 investigation, which involved extensive traceback, laboratory, and environmental analysis, led to a recall of 3.6 million packages of the cookie dough. However, no single source, vehicle, or production process associated with the dough could be identified for certain to have contributed to the contamination.

The researchers could not conclusively implicate flour as the E. coli source, but it remains the prime suspect. They pointed out that a single purchase of contaminated flour might have been used to manufacture multiple lots and varieties of dough over a period of time as suggested by the use-by dates on the contaminated product.

Flour does not ordinarily undergo a kill step to kill pathogens that may be present, unlike the other ingredients in the cookie dough like the pasteurized eggs, molasses, sugar, baking soda, and margarine. Chocolate was also not implicated in this outbreak since eating chocolate chip cookie dough was less strongly associated with these illnesses when compared with consuming other flavors of cookie dough.

The study authors conclude that "foods containing raw flour should be considered as possible vehicles of infection of future outbreaks of STEC."

During the investigation, three strains of STEC were discovered in one brand of cookie dough — although it wasn’t the same strain involved in the outbreak.

Manufacturers should consider using heat-treated or pasteurized flour, in ready-to-cook or ready-to-bake foods that may be consumed without cooking or baking, despite label statements about the danger of such risky eating practices, the authors conclude. In addition, manufacturers should consider formulating ready-to-bake prepackaged cookie dough to be as safe as a ready-to-eat food item.

Eating uncooked cookie dough appears to be a popular practice, especially among adolescent girls, the study authors note, with several patients reporting that they bought the product with no intention of actually baking cookies. Since educating consumers about the health risks may not completely halt the habit of snacking on cookie dough, making the snacks safer may be the best outcome possible.

A Novel Vehicle for Transmission of Escherichia coli O157:H7 to Humans: Multistate Outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 Infections Associated With Consumption of Ready-to-Bake Commercial Prepackaged Cookie Dough—United States, 2009

Salmonella tastes better in an expensive kitchen

I enjoy watching House Hunters on HGTV every now and then. I tend to get mad at people on that show because they base their decisions on the dumbest parameters.

Today I witnessed the latest dumb decision made by a couple in Lee’s Summit, MO (where I happened to be yesterday at my roommate’s parents house). They choose a $275,000 house because of the “huge kitchen and amazing garage,” while their two little girls share an 8 x 10 bedroom with two doll-sized closets in it.

As the family settles in, the food safety mistakes make an appearance as they make cookies in said huge kitchen. The two-and-a-half and one-and-a-half year olds help with the baking and eat a spoonful of raw cookie dough. Raw cookie dough contains the risk of Salmonella contamination, which is especially dangerous for the little ones. I admit that I have eaten it before, but not as a child and not after I learned about the risks involved.

The best part? Dad is a doctor.