More often than not, the most exciting part of baking anything is the prospect of raw, uncooked battery goodness. Liquid cake mix and unbaked cookie dough can easily be more tempting than the correctly prepared alternative, and child/adulthood afternoons spent extricating sticky remains from the bottom of mixing bowls and between the coils of a whisk are a formative foodie experience for many.
Unfortunately, there appears to be heartbreaking news for cookie connoisseurs everywhere. According to a new report from the New England Journal of Medicine, tasting uncooked foods made with flour can make you “dangerously ill”.
The age of innocent dough dining may be over.
The report focuses around the discovery that E. coli, which was previously thought to only be prevalent in damp environments like hamburger meat or leafy vegetables, can in fact survive and thrive in dry food stuffs, making flour an ideal host. The report is linked to a 2016 E. coli outbreak that was eventually traced back to a contaminated batch of flour. 63 patients across 24 states were affected, with 17 cases resulting in hospitalization. There were fortunately no fatalities.
Raw baking mixtures have often been viewed with caution by health professionals, on account of the presence of raw egg. Hence, parents have been warned of the potential risk of salmonella for decades. The prospect of E. coli, however, is forcing us to re-evaluate how we view unfettered cookie dough consumption. Unfortunately, it seems we have an entirely new reason to be fearful of floury foodstuffs.
The symptoms of an E. coli infection can vary greatly. Typically, the afflicted party experiences abdominal pain, fever, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. While unlikely to kill, the bacteria offers an extremely unpleasant experience to anyone unlucky enough to be afflicted.
Fortunately for all concerned, the bacteria is killed by prolonged exposure to heat, meaning that any cooking will eliminate the risk of infection. This goes for everything from bread to fried chicken, and includes pre-pasteurized commercial snacks such as cookie dough ice cream.
The cause of the original contamination was initially difficult to establish, as produce from a number of different bakeries appeared to be affected. It was initially suspected that chocolate chips were to blame, though to everyone’s relief these are still on the menu. Eventually, the flour was identified as the culprit and traced back to a factory in Kansas City. While there was no contamination detected at the facility itself, it became clear that the supply had become tainted by droppings from deer and cows in fields before the wheat was harvested. This goes to show how difficult the bacteria is to contain.
As heat treating flour drastically affects its performance in baking, the only option to guarantee safety is to not eat anything with raw flour in it. Dr Neill, an Associate at Brown University Medical School also advised washing hands in hot soapy water immediately after handling the substance.
In an age of near obsessive health consciousness, it seems like one of the last vestiges of indulgent, carefree childhood has been eradicated with this latest study. But, while there is a risk, it remains relatively small. There is now an added element of danger for the raw flour obsessed. The potential peril of chronic diarrhoea might help the whole raw cookie dough experience to taste that little bit more delicious.