Raw is still risky: Say no to raw dough

My mother used to make and lot of cakes and brownies with her groovy 1960s hand mixer and I always got to lick the beaters.

No more.

And it’s not just the raw eggs, it’s the raw flour.

In June, 2009, an outbreak of shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC, primarily O157:H7) in Nestle Toll House cookie dough sickened at least 77 people in 30 American states. Thirty-five people were hospitalized – from cookie dough.

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.

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

So it wasn’t much of a surprise when 63 people fell sick from the outbreak strain of E. coli O121 from Dec. 2015 to Sept. 2016 linked to raw General Mills flour.

There have been about a dozen other flour-related outbreaks. STEC means people – and kids – get quite sick.

Flour is a raw commodity, crops the flour is derived from could be exposed to anything, and testing is so much better than it used to be.

There are some brands of pasteurized flour out there, but people seem to have gotten used to flour as a cheap source of play-dough-like stuff for kids and something to throw at people.

The U.S. Centres for Disease Control says, nope.

This is not a Christmas conspiracy (although I prefer Solstice Season): it’s CDC providing information, like they are supposed to.

People can, and will, do what they want.

As Maggie Fox of NBC reports, “Do not taste or eat any raw dough or batter, whether for cookies, tortillas, pizza, biscuits, pancakes, or crafts made with raw flour, such as homemade play dough or holiday ornaments,” the CDC advises.

“Do not let children play with or eat raw dough, including dough for crafts.”

Handling food, including flour, requires care and hygiene.

“Keep raw foods such as flour or eggs separate from ready-to eat-foods. Because flour is a powder, it can spread easily,” the CDC notes. “Follow label directions to refrigerate products containing raw dough or eggs until they are cooked. Clean up thoroughly after handling flour, eggs, or raw dough.”

Dough used in dessert fingered in Pizza Ranch outbreak

The source of an outbreak at the aptly-named Pizza Ranch is a mystery. But it appears to be linked to skillet dough used in some desserts.

Dough and E. coli O157 have been a pair in the past – raw prepackaged Nestle cookie dough caused 72 illnesses in 2009. Flour was thought to be the source.ls

The Des Moines Register, based on initial reporting by Food Poisoning Bulletin, quotes Brittany Behm,  a spokeswoman for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Behm says the outbreak stretches back to December and includes 13 cases.

Nine of the people said they recently had eaten at Pizza Ranches, she said. Two children, in Kansas and Nebraska, suffered kidney failure and had to be hospitalized. They have since recovered, Behm said. None of the patients died.

David Werning, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, said Iowa officials picked up samples from Pizza Ranch restaurants in Denison and Sergeant Bluff, then forwarded them to federal investigators. No E. coli bacteria were found in those samples, he said.

Pizza Ranch released a statement Wednesday morning from its Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Achterhoff:

“Since late January, we have been assisting public health officials who are investigating 13 cases of illness attributed to a specific strain of E. coli O157 bacteria. Nine of the affected individuals reported having eaten at nine different Pizza Ranches in seven states. There are also individuals multiple states away from the nearest Pizza Ranch that reported not eating at Pizza Ranch that have the same strain of E. coli O157, though health investigators have not been able to pinpoint how they contracted the strain. The most recent reported illness related to this outbreak reported eating at one of our locations on January 30, 2016. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has told us that it believes the outbreak is concluded.

“We removed our Skillet Dough mix immediately from use in response to information suggesting that this product was a possible common factor in the illnesses and subsequently expanded this product withdrawal to include our Original Dough mix.

“The fact pattern shows that the source of bacteria originated from an outside supplier rather than at our restaurants. Several states collected products from Pizza Ranch restaurant locations to test for the presence of E.coli O157 though it was not found in any products tested. Pizza Ranch independently ran over 40 tests on different products to test for the presence of E. coli O157 and it was not found in any products tested. We provided public health investigators with a list of all of our ingredients as well as contact information for our ingredient suppliers. We also contacted the supplier of our dough mixes regarding this issue with the request that they cooperate with state and federal health officials.

“In addition, we instructed all Pizza Ranch locations to complete a special, precautionary cleaning of all surfaces and equipment used in dough preparation or service. Our franchisees and their team members responded with professionalism and great attention to detail. As a result, we continue to have absolute confidence in the quality and wholesomeness of every item we serve. All Pizza Ranch locations are open and serving their full menu.”

Blaming suppliers for this seems odd. Pathogens come into restaurants all the time. Limiting cross contamination and ensuring that cooking methods (like how they prepare the dessert pizza) are things Pizza Ranch needs to control.

ABC News: 3 kinds of E. coli linked to Nestle’s cookie dough

Brian Hartman of ABC News is reporting that investigators have linked at least three different kinds of E. coli to Nestle’s cookie dough but they remain stumped as to just how the bacteria got in the product.

DNA testing of E. coli found in an unopened package of cookie dough at Nestle’s plant in Danville, Va., determined the genetic fingerprint of the E. coli found at the plant is different than E. coli that has been linked to a 30-state outbreak that has sickened at least six dozen people, and that an altogether different strain of E. coli was found in dough recovered from the home of a victim.

Dr. David Acheson, the Food and Drug Administration’s assistant commissioner for food safety said,

“The investigation is winding up. It is not exactly over yet. But we have not figured out the likely ingredient. … It is unlikely that we will ever make a final determination of how this contamination occurred. … Theres no indication that this was deliberate.”

Cooking with Pooh

Last night while Doug was cooking dinner and we were feeding Sorenne some rice cereal and squash, I noticed we still had a tube of Pillsbury Cookie Dough in the refrigerator leftover from last week’s cookie experiment. We decided to make some cookies and free up more space in the fridge.

Doug reminded me, as I got ready for the extremely complicated process of slicing the dough to put on a cookie sheet, that I needed to treat the product as though it were contaminated. I said, “But this isn’t the recalled dough.” To which Doug responded, “Just because it wasn’t recalled doesn’t mean that it isn’t contaminated.” True that. So we were careful not to cross-contaminate. We put the tube on a cutting board. I used a pair of scissors to open it up and immediately put them in the dishwasher. I sliced up the dough, put it on the cookie sheet, washed my hands thoroughly, and Doug took care of the actual baking.

The cookies were not nearly as delicious as the ones Katie and I used to make during her 5 month stay in Manhattan, and I’m sure they contained some dairy, but we ate all of the cookies anyway.

This week Tom sent us a book advertisement from Amazon.com, “Cooking with Pooh: Yummy Yummy Cookie Cutter Treats.” If you’re potentially cooking with poo, be careful not to cross-contaminate and do not eat uncooked dough.


Possible poop remnants and Nestle’s raw cookie dough

During the evening of Thursday, June 18, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment urged Coloradans not to eat raw Nestle Toll House cookie dough because of possible contamination with E. coli O157:H7.

The next morning, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned consumers not to eat any varieties of prepackaged Nestle Toll House refrigerated cookie dough due to the risk of contamination with E. coli O157:H7. At the same time, Nestlé announced a voluntary recall of all Toll House refrigerated cookie dough products, “out of an abundance of caution.”

My colleague Evan managed to get some of that recalled cookie dough, I got some other cookie dough, and we made cookies.

In the latest video from the Safe Food Café, I stress that cookie dough is a raw product (although the eggs have been pasteurized in any commercial product) and can therefore cross-contaminate anything in the kitchen, and that the warning labels and safe-handling instructions on packages of raw cookie dough are terrible.

Evan finds Nestle refrigerated cookie dough; Doug cooks it (sorta)

During the evening of Thursday, June 18, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment urged Coloradans not to eat raw Nestle Toll House cookie dough because of possible contamination with E. coli O157:H7.

The next morning, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned consumers not to eat any varieties of prepackaged Nestle Toll House refrigerated cookie dough due to the risk of contamination with E. coli O157:H7. At the same time, Nestlé announced a voluntary recall of all Toll House refrigerated cookie dough products, “out of an abundance of caution.”

About 4:30 p.m. central time on Friday, June 19, 2009 (happy birthday, daughter Jaucelynn, avoid the raw cookie dough) colleague Evan reported that he had successfully obtained a package of Nestle Toll House refrigerated cookie dough (above, right, exactly as shown). I say obtained because he didn’t have to pay for it. Evan went to a local supermarket, and saw, “a young kid, armed with a box cutter, standing beside a cart full of Nestle Toll House products.

“I asked if I could have one of them, to which he replied, ‘you’re not going to get a refund for it are you?’ I told him no, but he said he had to cut open the package so I couldn’t return it. The kid wasn’t wearing any gloves and was sweating, so I’m guessing he was out there for a while handling a potentially contaminated product.”

And he gave Evan the raw cookie dough, which Evan triple-bagged and refrigerated until Saturday.

Amy and Sorenne and I went grocery shopping this morning, and observed that the Nestle refrigerated products had been dutifully cleared out (left, exactly as shown). We did, however, buy a couple of other raw cookie dough products. I never eat the stuff, but understand that many are quite passionate about their raw cookie dough.

There are at least two potential problems with raw cookie dough: eating it, and cross-contamination. Evan and I videotaped a cooking experiment and the cookies get plenty hot to kill off potential pathogens (we’ll post that later).

Bill Marler has written about the uh, inadequacies of the labels on Nestle raw cookie dough. Not that anyone reads labels, or that everyone speaks English, but maybe there shoud be more of a declaration of potential risk.

And bigger type: not to sound like ole-man-grouchy-Powell, but even with my reading glasses I could barely read a damn thing on the label. The Kroger private selection brand says,

Keep refrigerated
Use before date on package
Do not eat unbaked cookie dough.

The Pillsbury refrigerated cookie dough says,

Do not microwave unbaked Poppin Fresh dough
Bake before enjoying
Do not use if unsealed.

It would seems with at least 66 people sick with a serious illness – E. coli O157:H7 – of which 25 had to be hospitalized and seven will suffer long-term kidney damage, these labels sorta suck.

Oh, and according to a story carried by Bloomberg,

“The Toll House cookie brand is named for the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts, whose owner, Ruth Wakefield, is credited with inventing the chocolate chip cookie in the 1930s."

D-listed and the problem with raw cookie dough

Michael K of celebrity blog D-listed encapsulates the problem with Nestle, raw cookie dough, labels and E. coli O157:H7, which has so far sickened 66 people in 28 states.

If you get the craving to eat cookie dough this weekend, lick this picture and don’t eat the real thing or you may doody until you dieeeeeee. … This weekend the grocery stores are totally going to be full of single depressed ladies trading in their unused cookie dough for SnackWells.

Why do they always recall delicious things? They never recall crap like peas or multi-grain Cheerios. … I always eat raw cookie dough. I tell myself that I’m going to bake it like a normal person, but then suddenly the bowl is empty and I have the guilties.

Cookie dough? Cookie dough contaminated with E. coli O157:H7?

In yet another example of different jurisdictions having different opinions about when to go public, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment sent out a press release last night urging Coloradans not to eat raw Nestle Toll House cookie dough because of possible contamination with E. coli O157:H7.

If the link is proven, cookie dough would join a long list of foods like produce, pet food, peanut butter and pot pies that consumers really have very little control over; it’s up to the producers and processors. Which makes various consumer education programs like FightBac sorta backwards. Consumers have a role in food safety, but not with this stuff.

Colorado state health officials, the CDC and several other state health departments are investigating an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections.

To date, 66 cases from 28 states have been identified. Preliminary evidence from the multi-state investigation suggests that Nestle Toll House cookie dough may be the source of the outbreak, although further investigation is ongoing.

Five cases have been reported in Colorado in the following counties: Denver, Douglas (2), Jefferson and Weld. Two of the people have been hospitalized, and one has developed a severe complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome. Of the four people interviewed so far by the state health department, all had consumed the raw cookie dough during the week before they became ill.

Alicia Cronquist, the foodborne disease epidemiologist at the state health department, said,

“We can’t be certain that raw cookie dough is the source of these infections, but we are concerned enough that it might be and want consumers to be aware.”

Daniel Rifkin, Wholesale Food Program manager for the Department of Public Health and Environment’s Consumer Protection Division, said,

“Nestle is currently evaluating what actions they will take regarding their product. In the meantime, it is important that consumers do not eat or use raw Nestle Toll House cookie dough for now. If you decide to use the product, ensure that the cookies are cooked thoroughly and wash your hands well after handling the raw dough. More information will be forthcoming.”