Christmas time is not just about the decorations and the lights and, of course, the presents. It is also a time for family and, yes, food. And with that food comes lots of baked goodies like cookies. And one of the best things about making cookies at home, from scratch, has to be licking the bowl and spoon afterward.
At least, that used to be the best part.
That’s because health experts are warning, this year, that eating raw cookie dough could be dangerous to your health. Actually, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise there are two reasons you should not eat raw cookie dough.
Rather, they advise there are two ingredients you should be wary of.
First of all, unbaked cookie dough contains raw eggs and raw eggs, of course, can carry salmonella bacteria. Salmonella is a common bacteria found in poultry, and while most chickens are not found to be infected with it, those that might be could still be consumed because salmonella is easily killed off in the cooking process.
Similarly—though probably less commonly known—raw flour can be contaminated with Escherichia coli bacteria; also known as E. coli. And E. coli is also similar to salmonella in that you can typically kill it off in the cooking process.
The issue, then, is that when you make cookie dough, you could be using ingredients that are already contaminated with these bacteria. And while the cookies you bake might not make you sick—because you kill off the bacteria while the cookies are in the oven—raw batter does not have the luxury of that safety measure.
Symptoms of E. coli infection include severe stomach pain accompanied by diarrhea and vomiting; usually appearing within three days of infection. Symptoms of salmonella infection are similar but can also be accompanied by a fever. Fortunately, most patients typically recover within a week with either of these illnesses.
All that said, the CDC reports that only about 65 people were sickened by E. coli contaminated flour in the United States last year. Furthermore, it is pretty easy to find eggs that have been pasteurized (a process in which produce is prepared—often slightly heated—to kill harmful bacteria); and it is also pretty easy to pasteurize eggs yourself. Thus, catching salmonella from raw eggs is quite rare. In addition, E. coli contamination in flour is also pretty rare.