Little girl cook the dough for cookies

The dangers of eating raw cookie dough are real, says a Rutgers University expert.

Just how dangerous is eating raw cookie dough? A Rutgers University poison control expert compares the risk to a passenger in a vehicle not using the seatbelt. Steer clear of the temptation.

“It’s just the luck of the draw. Not everyone will get sick, but some people will be unlucky,” said Bruce Ruck, managing director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center at Rutgers University Medical School.

Eating raw cookie dough, bread batter or cake and brownie mixes is a recipe for disaster, Ruck said. Both raw eggs and flour can contain bacteria, viruses and parasites that can make anyone — especially young children and older adults — sick. Flour is a raw agricultural product that is not treated to kill germs including E. coli, and raw eggs and uncooked or undercooked cookie dough can contain salmonella, Ruck said.

Baked and cooked foods are safe to eat because cooking’s high temperatures kill bacteria, he said.

Even though the risks are well-known, some people just give in to the urge to taste before baking, Ruck said. Foodborne infections increased during 2018 compared with between 2015 and 2017, according to a recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2016 an E. coli outbreak linked to flour sicked 63 people, and in May 17 people in 11 states fell ill with E. coli symptoms linked to flour.

While it may be the luck of the draw whether a person becomes ill from a foodborne pathogen, the symptoms are so unpleasant no one should risk it.

“Raw products can cause serious gastrointestinal complications,” Ruck said.

Symptoms of food illnesses can be mild to severe depending on which germ was swallowed. Symptoms of E. coli may appear after three to four days and can result in fever, cramping, bloody diarrhea and vomiting, Ruck said.

Salmonella symptoms are faster-acting, occurring six hours to two days after ingestion. They include cramping, fever and diarrhea. In most cases, illness lasts four to seven days and people recover without antibiotics. Illness from salmonella bacteria can be serious and is more dangerous for older adults, infants and people with weakened immune systems.

While raw cookie dough is dangerous, cookie dough ice cream sold in stores contains dough that has been treated to kill harmful bacteria.

Stay healthy in the kitchen by following safe handling practices when preparing, cooking and storing foods, Ruck said. Clean up thoroughly after handling flour, eggs or raw dough:

  • Wash hands well before and after handling flour, raw eggs or any surfaces they have touched.
  • Wash bowls, utensils, countertops and other surfaces with warm, soapy water before and after use.
  • Do not let children play with or eat raw dough, including dough for crafts.
  • Keep raw foods such as flour or eggs separate from ready-to eat-foods. Because flour is a powder, it can spread easily.
  • Periodically check pantries, refrigerators and freezers to make sure recalled foods linked to contamination and outbreaks are removed. Find recall information at foodsafety.gov/recalls/recent/index.html and recalls.gov.

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