Nestle Toll House cookie dough returns; Linda Rivera still hospitalized

In Room 519 of Kindred Hospital, Linda Rivera can no longer speak.

Her mute state, punctuated only by groans, is the latest downturn in the swift collapse of her health that began in May when she curled up on her living room couch and nonchalantly ate several spoonfuls of the Nestlé cookie dough her family had been consuming for years. Federal health officials believe she is among 80 people in 31 states sickened by cookie dough contaminated with a deadly bacteria, E. coli O157:H7.

The impact of the infection has been especially severe for Rivera and nine other victims who developed a life-threatening complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome. One, a 4-year-old girl from South Carolina, had a stroke and is partially paralyzed.

But good news. Two weeks ago, Nestle announced, in breathless PR-speak,

After almost two months of being out of the U.S. marketplace, Nestle USA is pleased to announce that Nestle Toll House refrigerated cookie dough is returning to stores this week.

To make it easy for both retail partners and consumers to identify the new batch of cookie dough, a blue "New Batch" label will appear on all new production cookie dough items. Nestle Toll House shipping cases also are marked in blue (rather than the previous black) to denote new production and will contain the statement: "Do not consume raw cookie dough." The adoption of this distinct labeling is the result of helpful discussions between Food & Drug Administration (FDA) officials and Nestle, following reports of E.coli O157:H7 illnesses that appeared to be related to the consumption of raw cookie dough.

I bet the discussions were helpful. Probably similar to the ones ConAgra had with the U.S. Department of Agriculture geniuses who said, safe cooking instructions for frozen $0.50 pot pies should tell consumers to use a thermometer to make sure the pie is safe. Food safety is a shared responsibility apparently means it’s the consumer’s responsibility, especially in foods that may be perceived as ready-to-eat.

This is what the new Nestle cookie label looks like, on a package I picked up at a local store on Saturday (front, above, right; back, below, left).

Labeling is a lousy way to provide information about food safety risks, but better than nothing. I’m sure Nestle and ConAgra, in the best interests of their consumers, will publicly release the evaluative data they (probably? maybe?) acquired to show that these particular labels have a positive impact on consumer food safety behavior.