When making homemade dough for cakes, cookies, bread, or other baked goods, it may be tempting to taste the dough or lick the spoon. It may seem like a harmless habit, but resist the temptation! Eating or even tasting uncooked foods that are intended to be baked can make adults and children very ill. Most people don’t realize it, but children can also get sick after handling or eating dough used for crafts or play clay too.
A common misconception is that raw eggs are the only ingredient that poses a food safety risk in uncooked foods. People have long been warned of the danger of getting Salmonella from eating raw dough containing raw eggs. However, many people are unaware that there are additional risks associated with the consumption of raw dough, such as particularly harmful strains of E. coli in a product like flour.
Flour may not come to mind as raw food, but it is always raw unless it has been specially treated. Being a raw, untreated food means it hasn’t been processed to kill germs such as Escherichia coli (E. coli), which causes foodborne illness. Grain can become contaminated while still in the field or during other parts of the harvest or flour production. Grinding the grain and bleaching the flour does not kill germs such as E. coli. Cooking the dough or food made with flour is the only way to kill pathogens.
Besides not consuming uncooked dough or other raw foods containing uncooked flour, the FDA offers these tips for safe food handling to keep you and your family healthy:
- Keep raw foods separate from other foods while preparing them to prevent any contamination that may be present from spreading. Be aware that flour may spread easily due to its powdery nature.
- Do not eat any raw cookie dough, cake mix, batter, or any other raw dough or batter product that is supposed to be cooked or baked.
- Follow package directions for cooking products containing flour at proper temperatures and for specified times.
- Wash hands, work surfaces, and utensils thoroughly after contact with flour and raw dough products.
- Follow label directions to chill products containing raw dough promptly after purchase until baked.
- Raw eggs are another ingredient in uncooked batter and dough that can make you sick. Raw or lightly cooked eggs can contain Salmonella, a bacteria that causes foodborne illness, sometimes called “food poisoning.” Eggs are safe to eat when cooked and properly handled.
- Some companies and stores offer edible cookie dough that uses heat-treated flour and pasteurized eggs or no eggs. Read the label carefully to make sure the dough is meant to be eaten without baking or cooking.
- Remember: eating uncooked flour or raw eggs can make you sick. Don’t taste or eat raw dough or batter!
Follow safe food handling practices when you are baking and cooking with flour and other raw ingredients:
- Do not taste or eat any raw dough or batter, whether for cookies, tortillas, pizza, biscuits, pancakes, or crafts, made with raw flour, such as homemade play dough or holiday ornaments.
- Do not let children play with or eat raw dough, including dough for crafts.
- Bake or cook raw dough and batter, such as cookie dough and cake mix, before eating.
- Follow the recipe or package directions for cooking or baking at the proper temperature and for the specified time.
- Do not make milkshakes with products that contain raw flour, such as cake mix.
- Do not use raw homemade cookie dough in ice cream.
- Cookie dough ice cream sold in stores contains dough that has been treated to kill harmful bacteria.
- Keep raw foods such as flour or eggs separate from ready-to-eat foods. Because flour is a powder, it can spread easily.
- Follow label directions to refrigerate products containing raw dough or eggs until they are cooked.
- Clean up thoroughly after handling flour, eggs, or raw dough.
- Wash your hands with running water and soap after handling flour, raw eggs, or any surfaces they have touched.
- Wash bowls, utensils, countertops, and other surfaces with warm, soapy water.
If you or someone you know starts to exhibit symptoms of foodborne illness, pay close attention to the symptoms as they can vary from mild to severe and differ depending on the type of pathogen that was consumed in the food.
Severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting are all E. coli infection symptoms. People usually exhibit symptoms approximately 3 to 4 days after eating the contaminated food product. Most people recover within a week. However, some people develop a serious type of illness called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can result in kidney failure, stroke, and even death.
The symptoms of Salmonella infections typically appear 6 hours to 6 days after being exposed to the bacteria. Salmonella infections typically present with the symptoms of diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. Most times, people will be ill for 4 to 7 days and recover without antibiotics. Sickness caused by Salmonella bacteria can be serious and is most dangerous for older adults over 65, babies, and people with pre-existing health conditions or who are immuno-compromised.
Written by Vicki Hayman, MS, University of Wyoming Extension Nutrition and Food Safety Educator
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Food and Drug Administration
- U.S. Department of Agriculture