Why Eating Raw Cookie Dough Can Be Dangerous

By:    Published: May 3, 2012

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Most of us can recall a time in our childhood when we feasted on heaps of raw cookie dough. A scoop here and there given to you by the kitchen chef or perhaps you were sly enough to sneak a quick bite when Mom wasn’t looking. And while it may seem like an American rite of passage, a family tradition that should be passed down to the next generation, parents may want to think twice before they offer any raw cookie dough to their children.

What Is Raw Cookie Dough?

Cookie dough is a mixture of ingredients that are combined together to create a pliable mass. Prior to baking, the dough is separated into small sections that are formed by hand, dropped with a spoon or cut into slices with a knife. Cookie dough can be made from scratch in the home kitchen or can be purchased in pre-packaged containers. Pre-packaged cookie dough is available in both refrigerated and frozen form, and is sold in large tubs, precut sheets or rolled logs. Common ingredients found in cookie dough are:

  • Flour
  • Raw eggs
  • Milk
  • Sugar
  • Vanilla extract or other flavorings
  • Butter or oil
  • Chocolate chips or other add-ins

What Are The Dangers Of Eating Raw Cookie Dough?

The biggest danger associated with the consumption of raw cookie dough is the possibility of contracting a foodborne illness. Salmonella and E. coli are two very serious food-borne illnesses that can be contracted by eating raw cookie dough.

  • Salmonella attacks the gastrointestinal system. In severe cases or those that are left untreated, salmonella can occasionally spread beyond the stomach and intestines to infect other parts of the body such as the bones, blood or fluid that surrounds the brain. Salmonella is found in the feces of many animals. When foods that come into contact with animal feces are not cooked thoroughly, the bacteria are not killed off and it can lead to a salmonella outbreak in humans.
  • E. coli is a bacterium that lives in the human and animal digestive tract. Although there are many different strains of E. coli bacteria, the majority of them do not cause sickness in people. Some particular strains of E. coli, known as EHEC strains, can lead to an infection in humans which leads to the development of serious physical symptoms. Individuals can contract E. coli if they are exposed to human or animal feces. The most common mode of transmission is by eating foods that are contaminated with feces. In severe cases or those that are left untreated, E. coli can lead to serious conditions such as anemia, urinary tract infection, kidney failure and even death.

The two ingredients in raw cookie dough that are most likely to be contaminated by salmonella or E. coli are raw eggs and raw flour.

What Are The Symptoms Of Salmonella And E. Coli?

Salmonella infection generally lasts up to one week. Symptoms of salmonella can include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Blood in the stool
  • Stomach pain
  • Stomach cramps
  • Fever

E. coli symptoms develop three to four days after coming into contact with the bacteria and generally last up to one week. Symptoms include:

  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Fever

Who Is At The Greatest Risk?

The amount of bacteria that an individual ingests can be an influencing factor on the both development of a foodborne illness and severity of the condition. The more salmonella or E. coli bacteria that is ingested, the greater the likelihood of coming down with the illness. There are some individuals who are at greater risk of becoming infected. Those include:

  • Infants and young children
  • The elderly
  • Individuals with a compromised immune system
  • Individuals who regularly take antacids and other stomach medications

Is All Raw Cookie Dough Dangerous?

All raw cookie dough is potentially dangerous and eating it puts you at risk for developing a foodborne illness. Many people mistakenly believe that eating commercially prepared raw cookie dough is safer than eating raw cookie dough that is made at home. This is likely due to the misconception that prepackaged foods are safe to eat. It is important to remember that pre-made cookie dough is sold as ready to bake, not as ready to eat raw.

The development of the popular cookie dough ice cream has led many individuals to wrongly believe that it is safe to eat raw cookie dough. What many people do not realize is that the raw cookie dough that is used in cookie dough ice cream recipes is not made with raw eggs and raw flour.

Are There Any Safe Raw Cookie Dough Alternative?

When it comes to standard cookie dough recipes that include raw eggs and flour as an ingredient, the only way to safely consume it is to follow the baking directions and cook the dough thoroughly.

There are alternative cookie dough recipes that can be made without the addition of raw eggs. To make a safe-to-eat alternative, be sure to only use heat- treated flour. Do not add eggs to the dough. By altering your cookie dough recipe and sticking to basic, safe ingredients that are not associated with food-borne illnesses, you can greatly decrease your risk of becoming ill.

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