Picnic vs Pathogens – Food Safety P’s

As you and your family, friends gather for Memorial Day backyard indulgence with the P’s – Pools, Puppies, People and Playgrounds, do not forget about the other P’s like Pathogens, Puke, Poop, Pain!

Some simple Precautions can provide you with a Pleasant experience in the outdoor world.

  1. Mom always told you — wash your hands.
    Be sure to wash hands (not just pretend to) during food preparation, when switching from handling raw meat to chopping raw vegetables for a salad. Hand sanitizer is not good enough. Note: When you are in a situation without any running water, soap – ok to use hand sanitizer (at least 60% Alcohol), wipe hands with paper towels and apply the sanitizer again.
  2. Keep it clean!
    Clean and sanitize coolers, grills, grilling knives, tongs, serving utensils, baskets and bags because they can be a mecca for pathogenic growth. Do this before heading out to a remote site if not at your own home.
  3. Keep it Cold or Keep it Hot!
    Never allow your foods to stay between 40°F and 135°F for more than 2-3 hours. Keep and use ice chests, coolers with ice, plugged in camping equipment – as needed. Keep coolers in the shaded area – when outdoor. Pack water bottles that are frozen – the night before – for extra precaution and place them in coolers.
  4. Separate, separate, separate!
    Keep raw meats, poultry, and seafood separate from other ready-to-eat foods. Use separate cooler for raw meats and poultry and another for foods such as fruits, vegetables, cheese, and desserts. Take two sets of plates and utensils for handling raw meats and for serving cooked foods to limit the chances of cross-contamination.
  5. Thermometer is better than your eyes and fingers!
    Cook all meats to safe internal temperature and a food thermometer is the only way to make sure that food has reached this temperature. Cook fish (seafood) and hot dogs to at least 145°F, ground meat to 155°F and poultry items to 165°F.
  6. When in doubt, Toss it out!
    If the meats and perishable items have been out on the serving table for more than 90-120 minutes, it goes in the trash bin. Hotter the weather, smaller window you have to make sure that everyone eats before jumping in the pool. Don’t take any chances.
  7. Uninvited guests (insects) – keep them out!
    Fruit flies, houseflies are annoying, unwanted, and not welcome at outdoor events. Not just fly barf and poop have been associated with human illness. footprints are just as, if not more, dangerous.
  8. Don’t forget these:
    Chips, cut fruits, mayo, salsa and other foods can also become cross contaminated if hands are not washed after swimming, or being in ponds, lakes. Norovirus, E. coli is present everywhere. Making sand castles on beach, fishing in ponds, playing with domestic and farm animals are all a risk with wherever your festivities take you. Another P, that cold potato salad deserves cold storage too!

Simply put – keep unwanted pathogenic bullies from crashing your outdoor party and have fun! 


How IoT can help #FoodSafety – Internet of Things

Internet of Things (IoT)

Consumer preferences are evolving and the food industry faces challenges to ensure safe food – Everyone wants: clean labels, natural, organic, locally grown, gluten-free, GMO-free, antibiotic-free – and the food movement is real. Food manufacturers and retailers are adapting to changing consumer demands and as a result, are enhancing their food safety protocols and technologies as well. Properly connected technology can help take food safety to the next level.

Food service establishments (restaurants, grocery stores, super markets, convenience stores) are becoming more proactive in protecting their brand. The idea of keeping any happenings limited to the awareness of only the few that were involved is a thing of the past. Forward-thinking companies realize that social media has changed the landscape, and what was once a single-store minor “meh” can now cause company-wide experiment.

In recent years, digital technology has connected sensors and devices, created new business models, transformed how we communicate and helped grow our economies. We hear that 70 percent of the potential value of digital technologies and the Internet of Things (IoT) is in B2B (business-to-business) applications.

How can we utilize IoT-enabled food safety systems for evolution?


Managing food safety is a big challenge for everyone in the industry. Cumbersome and manual processes restricts corporate or regional communications. Collected data is hard to share, analyze and act upon if not digital.

  • Was the ice machine and soda dispensing area properly sanitized last night?
  • Was the seafood special cooked to and held at the correct temperature?
  • During that recall, did we destroy/return the suspect sauce?
  • Did the manager provide corrective action plan to the regulatory agency?
  • Our supplier was on the federal warning letter list. Did they resolve it?

Achieve better compliance, greater operational efficiency, enhanced food quality and higher guest satisfaction.


With digital technology, identify future risks and proactively resolve issues before problems occur. Data from monitoring equipment in your facility— and sensors in facilities around the world—can be communicated in real-time. Trends, patterns and risk predictions can only help us for better decisions and drive business strategies. We all know that predictive is better than proactive (and reactive) style of doing things in the food safety world.


We love to obtain a lot of data but we don’t know what to do with it. The key to success is to translate and analyze the collected data into actionable insights, identify trends and focus your resources on the problems at hand. Use the right business partners and providers. Verify your performances to ideal resource allocations and reduce operational cost. Strategic alliances and forward-thinking technology – when executed properly, can only enhance your food safety management system.


IoT and “smart” connected devices have successfully permeated the consumer market in recent years.

  • Connectivity within the kitchen: between front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) employees
  • IoT monitors the equipment that cooks, cleans or stores food
  • IoT and smart digital equipment can measure cooking equipment- fryers, grills, ovens, etc. whereby the circuit boards provide prompts to take action (filter cooking oil, temperature, etc.)
  • IoT provides data outside of the restaurant/store to compare with another
  • IoT collects data to drive proper distribution of resources for analytic info for future use/procurement
  • IoT provides real-time information about compliance with one’s standard operating procedures using daily/weekly/monthly checklists and schedules
  • IoT and combination of data provides cost savings and enhanced efficiency
  • IoT reduces food waste while producing consistent food items
  • IoT enforces standard operating procedures, increases employee morale, simplify manager’s jobs
  • IoT enables you to personalize promotions by integrating customer data, including purchase history and geographic location, with loyalty programs
  • IoT enables customers to place orders and pay their bill from a digital kiosk or mobile device
  • IoT enables you to monitor inventory levels in real time, while advanced analytics help you forecast demand
  • IoT Sensors can be used to detect the presence of customers at or near the restaurant/store and deliver promotional offers via their mobile devices

Internet of Things (IoT) is poised to vividly improve food safety practices. Automated data collection will yield labor cost savings. For HACCPers, critical control points can move upstream to food safety and asset management and drive down operating costs.

In conclusion: The Internet of Things (IoT) is the concept that everything will one day (soon, if not already) be connected with. Remember when computers became networked and connected with the internet? Remember when you were the first one to have a 3 ½” drive on your PC?

Savvy operators and food safety professional who understand changing food safety regulatory demands are driving the adoption of these technologies that ease the transition towards ongoing compliance. Food safety technology is changing! Are you changing with them?


Flooding and food safety

Food Safety after flooding

If you don’t know someone named #Harvey, by now – am sure that you don’t want to see anything named Harvey come close to you – especially if you live in the great state of Texas, like me.

There has been countless homes (including a few relatives and friends of mine) flooded from this epic hurricane #Harvey event and as they get ready to begin the recovery phase, wanted to share a few safety tips with y’all.

Image source: Google.com

After flooding and hurricane, one needs to review all food and food preparation areas and equipment to decide what to keep or throw away. Flooding, can contaminate the public water supply as well (did you hear about city of Beaumont?). Water in the hurricane-affected area may not be safe to drink. Local announcements from radio stations and health department should provide updated information on the water supply in your area.


  • Don’t eat food that may have come into contact with flood water. If in doubt, throw it out.
  • Don’t eat food packed in plastic, paper, cardboard, cloth and similar containers that have been water damaged.
  • Don’t save food and beverage containers with screw-caps, snap lids, crimped caps (soda bottles), twist caps, flip tops and home canned foods, if they have come in contact with flood water. These containers cannot be disinfected and this is not a way to save a few $.

If you have commercially-prepared foods in metal cans or retort pouches, they can be saved.

  • Remove all labels
  • Thoroughly wash the cans, rinse them and then disinfect them

Sanitizing solution consisting of 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of potable water should be adequate.


  • If tap water is not potable or is questionable, follow these directions:
  • Use clean (fresh bought) bottled water if it is available.
  • DIY: You can boil water to make it safe. Boiling water will kill most types of disease-causing organisms that may be present. Cloudy water can be filtered through clean cloths and boiled. Boil the water and let it cool, and store it in clean containers with covers.
  • DIY: If you don’t have power or gas available, you can disinfect water using household bleach. Bleach will kill some, but not all, types of disease-causing organisms that may be in the water. If water is cloudy, filter it through clean cloths, and draw off clear water for disinfection. Add ⅛ teaspoon (or 8 drops) of regular, unscented, liquid household bleach for each gallon of water, stir it well and let it stand for 30 minutes before you use it. Store disinfected water in clean containers with covers.
  • If you have a well that has been flooded, the water should be tested and disinfected after flood waters recede. If you suspect that your water well may be contaminated, contact your local or state health department or agriculture extension agent for specific advice.

Food Contact Surfaces and Equipment

  • Wear protective clothing, such as gloves, to avoid skin contact, irritation or infection while cleaning.
  • Discard ALL wooden equipment (cutting boards, dishes and utensils), plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers that have come into contact with flood water. These items cannot be safely cleaned.
  • Metal pans, ceramic dishes and utensils (including can openers): Clean with soap and water, using hot water if available. Rinse and sanitize by boiling in clean water or immersing for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid bleach per gallon of drinking water (or the cleanest, clearest water available).
  • Countertops: Clean with soap and water, using hot water if available. Rinse and sanitize by applying a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid bleach per gallon of drinking water (or the cleanest, clearest water available). Allow to air dry.
  • Don’t avoid cleaning corners, cracks and crevices, door handles and door seals in rooms that have been affected by flood water.

Kitchen Appliances

  • If the power in a refrigerator goes out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. The refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.
  • Once the power is restored, determine the safety of your food. If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, check the temperature when the power comes back on. If the freezer thermometer reads 40°F or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen. If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety. You can’t rely on appearance or odor. If the food still contains ice crystals or is 40°F or below, it is safe to refreeze or cook.
  • Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power was out for no more than four hours and the door was kept closed. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs or leftovers) that has been above 40°F for two hours or more.
  • Perishable food such as meat, poultry, seafood, milk and eggs that are not kept adequately refrigerated or frozen may cause illness if consumed, even when they are thoroughly cooked.
  • Discard refrigerators that have been submerged in flood water, or if enough moisture was present from liquefied food items to reach the insulation inside the equipment.
  • Run your dishwasher (empty) through three complete cycles to flush the water lines and assure that they are cleaned internally before washing dishes and utensils in it.

I am not a medical physician and I am not able to provide your health and well-being suggestions but don’t forget to ask them and/or check with your local health department for tips and safety.

Image source: Google.com

I wish each and every one of you a quick recovery and send my prayers for you and your families.

Ten Commandments – Food Safety Plan

Ten Commandments – Food Safety Management

You have seen the ten commandments in your spiritual life but what about the food ten_commandments_hebrew_stonesafety life?


As we all know, the DoJ has stepped into the food industry and they can seek to prosecute cases where illnesses have occurred – restaurant companies, manufacturers, etc. Our consumers are demanding “cleaner” products as they eat out or purchase their food. With the science of genome sequencing, it’s possible to link illnesses from years earlier to their source, meaning a past incident can come back to haunt a company – long after the event.

Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) – based regulations are here. The first impression that restaurants and grocery stores would not be impacted is now becoming clear that the ripple effect of FSMA will increase the food safety demands on them as well. FDA has written the rules for some flexibility – which is causing significant confusion and it carries the risk of many in the industry getting something wrong and placing considerable and unnecessary strain on already overburdened QA professionals.

Therefore, the food safety professionals cannot manage food safety program in the same old way. There has never been a more important time to stop, take a critical and unbiased view of the food safety management systems and processes, and emulate best practices being used in the industry.

Follow these 10 simple commandments:

  1. Senior Leadership Team on your side

Senior leadership want to know: ROI, key issues and plans to address those, business trending, strategies employed to move the business in the right direction, and how the quality and food safety strategies support business strategies and objectives. These strategies are always focused on the customer.

Be clear with the senior leaders’ group about the investment required in food safety, and the benefits gained through the investment. As we all know, the investment is significantly less costly than the problems. Provide simple but impactful food safety training to the senior leaders. This will highlight that effective food safety training is provided for every team member in the company.

  1. Suppliers audited

Regularly audit all suppliers, especially prior to their first delivery of items. Must review supplier’s track record so it can be established that appropriate systems and processes exist. The audits need to be structured so that all of the elements supporting the supplier’s ability to reliably meet all the quality and food safety requirements are checked, and where deficiencies are found, formal corrective actions are established. There are a number of good auditing schemes in widespread use, accredited under the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI).

Best practice in this area: Obtain full copy of every audit, review the audit outcomes to establish that risks are effectively identified and managed; and ensure that corrective actions requested by the auditor are resolved in a timely manner.

  1. Supplier Specifications

To ensure consistency of the items you are using in your restaurant, specification is required for most items.

The specification should include the chemical, physical, and biological parameters the supplier has promised to comply with to ensure the item is safe. The specification should also contain a full ingredient list of the product, including the presence or otherwise of any allergens. This is essential to enable rapid investigation of the presence of a particular ingredient of concern that may be subject of a wider recall.

  1. Supplier Performance

Supplier audit is merely a point-in-time assessment, and may or may not reflect the typical week-to-week performance of a given supplier. Be sure to include conformance to specifications, the number and rate of corrective actions and timely responses to measure performance. The best industry practice is to keep your dialogue and communication with the suppliers – – fact based; transparently providing comments to the supplier on their actual performance.

  1. Risk Assessment and Preventative Controls

Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) is used on a voluntary basis by few operators, though not currently required. The HACCP process identifies all hazards that may exist and clarifies the point at which the hazard can be managed or controlled. This process prevents the hazard: a) from entering the food, b) eliminating it in product, or c) reducing it to acceptable levels.

FSMA’s requires for the supplier to identify particular hazard, if not controlled by their process. In this case, they must advise users of their non-compliance in writing.

Restaurants must acknowledge that items such as raw meats, fresh produce, and many other items contain hazards, and take on the responsibility for controlling specific hazard. Implement HACCP (if possible) to ensure that the hazard is effectively controlled.

  1. Validate | Monitor | Document |

The validation step determines that the control measures put in place are scientifically sound and will control the identified hazard. Managers and team members are required to “monitor” the control measures to ensure the hazard is eliminated/controlled.

The best way to verify a restaurant’s plan is being followed is to document the evidence. One can also include a review of the execution and evidence for corrective actions being taken when control measures are out of compliance. Verification is providing proof that you are doing what you said you needed to.

  1. Corrective Actions

Organize workflow, take prompt and timely corrective action when something fails and always follow-up. Documentation of all the required communication of the details between the parties is very important. Train and re-train as necessary.

  1. Documentation

An arduous food safety management system ensures that everything is documented—a challenging task in today’s dynamic work environment because of pressure on new product development, constant change in the supplier world, pressure on value engineering, and staff turnover. For documentation to be truly effective, each element of data needs to be dated, and each action must be trackable. Thankfully, technology has changed, and in this cloud-based computing age and with the right software, data can be available to anyone who is authorized, from any device, at any time and from any location.

  1. Complaints and Social Media

While employee empowerment is a great approach to resolve complaints at the point of receipt, there must also be an entrenched process of identifying and resolving common causes. Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.) being used by the masses – can’t be ignored and must be effectively monitored and managed.

  1. Professional FTE

One must have a food safety professional on staff – company’s growth and future plans must include a FTE, if not already! Consultants can help and assist you and your team as well – but there are limitations to this.

In short: Almost 60% of all food borne illnesses in the US is caused by food consumed from a food service facility, the business must take every possible step to ensure brand protection and that all food served is safe to eat.

Image: via leewoof.org

Win Super Bowl – Food Safety Defense

Defense wins Championship

As you get ready to serve food to your guests in a restaurant or your loved one, follow these simple FOOD SAFETY DEFENSE rules to avoid food safety penalties during fast-paced Super Bowl celebratiosb51_game_ball_front_1ns.

Personal foul

That hand towel on your oven or hanging from your belt is a 15-yard penalty. Not sanitizing food-contact surfaces before, during, and after prepping raw vegetables and meat is going to
create challenges for your coaching staff. Disposable sanitizing wipes are convenient, fast, and effective at home to prevent cross-contamination that may cause foodborne illnesses.

Illegal formation

Two hours is the maximum time foods should be kept at room temperature. Just one bacterium, doubling every 20 minutes, could grow to over 2 million bacteria in seven hours! Don’t hesitate – refrigerate at 41°F or colder. Meat, poultry, fish and dairy products, pasta, rice, beans and cooked vegetables should be consumed in 2 hours or place them in refrigerator. Refrigerate salads with meat/fish/chicken/seafood, fresh-cut fruits until used.

Clock management

Pre-moistened sanitizer wipes are the smartest way to maintain clean and sanitary hands and surfaces when every second counts.

Unnecessary roughness

Refrigerate take-out
foods right away if you won’t be eating them within two hours after buying. For large quantities, divide food into loosely covered shallow containers before refrigerating and then cover tightly when cool. If you leave your pizza and other perishable foods at room temperature for more than two hours, you will be moving back 15 yards.

Delay of game

Plan to eat take-out foods and leftovers within a day (Monday) for greater safety and quality.

Illegal substitution

Don’t reheat take-out food in its original container in the microwave, unless the container is described as safe for microwave use. Reheat all foods to 165°F. Use a food thermometer and proper utensils.

Illegal use of hands

Provide hand sanitizing wipes before, during, and after preparing or handling food. Wash your hands as many times as you can when preparing/handling food items – especially ready to eat food items.

Neutral-Zone infraction

You can’t see, smell, or taste bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses. It takes from half an hour to two or more weeks before you get sick from contaminated food. Sometimes it’s hard to know if food has been handled safely. If you are not sure, throw it away. No delays allowed.

Hike – Wash, Wipe, Refrigerate, Toss, OMAHA Hut!

Notes: A cooler well packed with ice or frozen gel packs is a practical alternative to a refrigerator. Keep the cooler in the shade. After food comes out of the cooler, remember the two-hour rule. Keep it at 41°F or below. Use a chafing dish, warming tray, steam table, slow cooking pot or a place on the side of the cooking grill. Keep it at 140°F or higher. 


Super Bowl LI is in Houston!

Football photo: courtesy Wilson.com


Let’s make American TV Food Shows “Food Safe” now!

If I made a dollar every time someone brings up a celebrity chef and talks about what he or she viewed on a televised program and not follow safe food handling protocols, I would have a lot more money in my bank account.

I know what you are thinking “if a celebrity chef can do it on TV, why can’t I?”

We all know that Gordon Ramsay’s primary responsibility when filming “Hell’s Kitchen” isn’t food safety, its entertainment. The same applies for the filming of “Top Chef” or “Jamie’s Kitchen” or “Paula’s Home Cooking” or “30 Minute Meals” or “Throw down with Bobby” or “Guy’s Big Bite” or “Restaurant: Impossible” or “Bar Rescue” or insert your own favorite show here >.

Remember that Martha Stewart was confined to bed for several days after becoming ill with salmonella few years back? She had made her rounds on the daytime talk shows, preparing turkeys for the Thanksgiving holiday. I remember telling my family, “I wish they would show Martha washing her hands to prevent cross contamination.” Apparently, she did not wash her hands well and became ill. Yes, celebrities get sick, too.

I remember that Giada De Laurentiis was on “The Today Show” and preparing ready-to-eat foods with her bare hands while having a bandage on her finger. Where were the single-use disposable gloves? Does the producer or network not know these simple rules?

Foodborne illness continues to be a significant health concern. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that each year 9.4 million episodes of foodborne illness, resulting in 55,961 hospitalizations, 1,351 deaths and an economic burden of approximately $78 billion annually occur in the U.S.  Foodborne illnesses such as Hepatitis A and Norovirus can spread rapidly via improper personal hygiene such as not properly washing one’s hands or washing improperly. Wearing single-use gloves and preventing cross-contamination are very critical to prevent the spread of illness.

We all know that the food you see celebrity chefs preparing isn’t what the audiences are consuming, but viewers assume it is. Don’t you think that the chefs can include a bit more information and demonstration about food safety? Those few seconds they show the chef licking their fingers can be easily replaced by showing them washing their hands and adding a graphic that you must wash your hands properly.

Imitating positive behavior of a role model may impact the adoption of safe-handling practices. While role modeling has been shown to be an effective mode for behavior change in the nursing and medical arena, the concept has not been applied to food-safety education. Effective role modeling involves exposure, reinforcement, accountability, and repeating positive behavior. We need to start role modeling in food safety world NOW.

From a recent analysis* of 60 TV episodes revealed most common food-handling errors:

  • 98% of episodes (almost every show) failed to wash hands prior to beginning food preparation. However, 46% mentioned handwashing (or showed it), but did not mention that it is recommended 20 seconds.

  • Hosts were shown licking their fingers 5% of the time and touching their head, face, or hair 7% of the time.

  • With respect to cross-contamination, ready-to-eat food or kitchen items were touched after handling raw meat without reference to or actual washing of hands prior to touching the items 27% of times.

  • Cutting boards were used without washing or mention of washing in 69% of the episodes.

  • The host wiped his/her hands with a cloth towel or clothing in 35% of episodes.

  • 52% of the shows, chefs added ingredients to their dish with unwashed hands, and in 11% of the episodes the host was shown sampling food with their hands rather than utensils.

  • 25% of the episodes, the chefs handled the finished dish with their hands instead of utensils, and in 8% of the shows utensils were not washed between being used for raw and ready-to-eat foods.

  • In 45% of the shows, chefs tested meat for doneness without using a thermometer, and 8% mentioned an incorrect cooking temperature.

  • 8% episodes exhibited temperature abuse or recommended serving food at an incorrect temperature.

Who was the most obvious? Bobby Flay’s Boy Meets Grill averaged the most errors per show, at 5.7, while Paula’s Home Cooking averaged the fewest errors, at 4.0 errors per show. Fieri’s Big Bite and Ray’s 30 Minute Meals averaged of 4.1 and 4.2 errors per episode, respectively.

Rachael Ray mentioned on her show that it was OK to leave meatballs out at room temperature and snack on them throughout the night. 27% consumers agreed with her. Yea, sure! Insert your hashtag here > #___

Guy Fieri, while cooking burgers on his show did not use a thermometer, and only used the recipe cooking time. 52% of surveyed consumers agreed that if Guy Fieri did that, they would do the same.

I am not a celebrity chef but a food safety professional and next time you are watching your favorite food show on TV, please remember a few food safety tips:

  1. Always wash your hands with hot, soapy water and rubbing between fingers for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food. Use a paper towel.
  2. Thaw frozen food items in the refrigerator. Never defrost food at room temperature on the counter top or in the sink. It is acceptable to thaw frozen food under running water at a temperature of 70°F or below.
  3. Wash cutting boards and knives with hot, soapy water after food preparation, especially after cutting raw meat, poultry or seafood. Clean utensils and cutting boards between uses when meat has been on them.
  4. Never place food on the same plate or cutting board that previously held raw meat, poultry or seafood unless the cutting board has been thoroughly washed and rinsed.
  5. Refrigerate or freeze prepared foods and leftovers within two to three hours. Do not leave them sitting out at room temperature.

I am not familiar with any celebrity chef’s food-safety trailblazer ranking. Let’s let the food-safety professionals execute the educating and the chefs prepare the meals. As for the celebrity chefs — let’s hope that the TV networks and producer spend a few dollars and hire a consultant so that some key information about food safety is shown and implemented on the shows.

TV celebrity chefs are ideal role models for food safety messaging because of their popularity; therefore, they could serve as important resources for consumer food safety education.


* Published in Food Protection Trends (Volume 36, Number 6) and work supported by National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 2012-68003-30155. Author: Rachelle D. Woods and Christine M. Bruhn

Raw Cookie Dough or not?

Since that late evening bowl of your favorite ice cream is not enough, you add that frozen scoop of chocolate chip cookie dough. Butter, cream, chocolate and a combination of granulated sugar sends satisfying impulses from your tongue directly to your brain, even before you pick up that first spoon. Did you just make that cookie dough in your kitchen or did you buy it from a store?

An FDA warning released earlier this week has consumers confused as to whether uncooked cookie dough is safe to eat because of potential contamination with a type of bacteria that can cause pain in your GI tract. You’re okay eating most commercial cookie dough products–in cookie dough ice cream, where the product is intended to be eaten uncooked.

Edible-Cookie-Dough-Recipe-Step-1Biggest concern is for people eating anything uncooked that contains flour purchased off the shelf or delivered in 50-pound bags to pizzerias and bakeries.

To be perfectly clear:

  • Do not eat any uncooked dough, cake batter, uncooked tortillas, etc. at home.
  • Do not allow your kids (or yourself) to play with dough or flour-based “clay” that some restaurants give away. Check with your day care center and make sure.

So, you wonder:

How can raw cookie dough sold commercially be safe while grandma’s wholesome recipe made at home runs the risk of giving you bloody diarrhea (sorry to gross you out)?

Why does no one seem to be talking about the risks of uncooked eggs that you also add to many home recipes?

The raw dough alarm

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been investigating the cause of severe intestinal symptoms in 20 states beginning back in December 2015. Ten people have been hospitalized and one patient went into a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome. These infections have ranged from age 1 to 95, with a median age of 18. Interestingly, 78% of people with the illness are female. I wonder who is guilty of tasting that cookie dough while prepping?

Thankfully – so far, no one has died from raw cookie dough illness.

Multistate-Outbreak-of-Shiga-toxin-producing-Escherichia-coli-O121-Infections-Linked-to-Flour-June-2016-E.-coli-CDCPhoto Credit: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

A type of E. coli bacteria called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O121, or STEC O121 is the common bacteria. Investigations reveal the most likely source of these bacteria is a factory in Kansas City, Missouri. As a result, General Mills issued a recall on May 31 of all sizes and varieties of Gold Medal Flour, Gold Medal Wondra Flour and Signature Kitchens. On June 11, the company confirmed that the FDA had found the bacteria in one sample among the many that were tested.

Because flour has a long shelf life, more cases may emerge.

Most manufacturers of pre-made cookie dough use a heat treatment for flour and a pasteurization process for eggs which, unrelated to this E. coli outbreak, are a known source of disease-causing Salmonella bacteria.

Lesson learned?

Just don’t make homemade cookie dough ice cream unless you have pasteurizing process and related equipment. If that’s your favorite flavor, buy commercially made products. Manufacturers (should) use ingredients that include treated flour and pasteurized eggs.

Don’t eat uncooked flour. Don’t play with it and then touch your face.  Processed foods can sometimes be safer for you than “natural.”