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.”


Local-grown or not?


The “tractor-to-table” (or farm-to-fork or whatever else you call it) movement attracts restaurants and grocery stores to adapt to guests wanting locally grown foods that may be looked as more “natural.”  Food establishment operators may forget that several factors make food commodities from small local suppliers a possible source of brand protection risk, especially for quick-serve and fast-casual operations.

Factors for the operators when “tractor-to-table” movement is added:

All food establishment operators know about these risks and this is nothing new.  The operators and decision-makers must focus on how the “tractor-to-table” approach makes business sense so long as these risks are identified and remedied in a systematic way, and not just being part of a standard operating procedure (SOP) document. Unless operators manage risks with a layered approach and building food safety into daily culture, there are more chances of failure.

  • Employee knowledge and food-safety awareness.

Operators attract transient workers like students, workers that are searching for any job, workers that are retired and someone who is simply new to workforce.  They lack a background in food safety. Their leader (supervisor) may also be new to their responsibilities. The risk elimination and management is a must.

  • Brand protection and regulatory compliance.

In a social media dominant world with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Yelp – bad customer experience or an alleged foodborne illness linked to a particular location/brand or food supplier can go viral—pun intended—in minutes.  Public health department and consumers will know about the problems instantly. With the federal, state and local regulatory workforce being at more aware-level, operators and risk management officials need to know how to assess and remedy each situation very quickly. These so called challenges go beyond the regulatory compliance level. The media and guests will demand to be informed.  Enhanced and efficient crisis communications strategy can be very useful in preventing severe damage to brand identity and overall reputation if rumors and wrong information is shared and re-tweeted by the consumers.

  • Farms – Supply chain issues.

The recent Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) requires monitoring and inspection for farm operations. Smaller food suppliers, which are not covered by FSMA, are less scrutinized. This doesn’t mean local suppliers don’t follow proper food safety and sanitation procedures. They are less regulated, which could increase the potential risk of tainted foods entering the supply chain.

How do we address these factors?

  • Being Proactive

Revise and modify training to ensure essential practices are included and related rationale is clearly explained and continuously refreshed.  This training is for everyone, not just new hires.  Review every step in food handling to document potential gaps. Where are the more transient food handlers? Where the most significant turnover? Every vendor in supply chain is visited to check their food safety and sanitation practices.  If FSMA rules exempt the vendor, the review and visit become even more important.  A crisis response plan is included in training so that food handlers know their roles before any critical event happens.

  • Timely Identification

Establishment operators must have proper system(s) in place to identify issues quickly. Example: Storage facilities are continuously monitored for safe holding temperature and sanitation. Invest in technology so that temperature monitors provide 24/7 coverage and alert you when critical issues occur.

Let the guests and customers alert you to major concerns that they experienced during their visit. Monitor these hotlines and email ID to resolve as they are reported. Most social media will display a “trending” item/topic. Have dedicated staff member monitor web-based activities.

  • Quick Remedy

Take immediate corrective actions in conjunction with senior management personnel.  Launch the crisis response plan as soon as possible.  Consult legal authority, crisis communications team or outside agencies and others who need to weigh in and manage the crisis. Identify the root cause for the problem and how it can be prevented in future.  Learning from a successfully managed crisis, update food safety and sanitation processes.

Reach out to the guest as soon as possible and inform them that the crisis has been resolved. Let them know that they should feel confident in a positive future dining experience.

I am hopeful that this will help you decide whether you want to go “local” or not!

What would you do for a CANTALOUPE?

Cantaloupe – Is it Good for ya? – I didn’t think so.

Unsanitary conditions at a Holly, CO farm have been cited as the probable cause of the Listeria outbreak that has sickened more than 125 and at least 25 people have died. It was a result of the outbreak traced back in early September and led to a recall of the firm’s cantaloupes, a multi-agency environmental review of the farm’s growing, packing and cooling facilities was conducted. Representatives from the FDA and the CDC said that the review identified several unsanitary factors that “most likely contributed to the introduction, spread and growth of Listeria in the cantaloupes.”

Those factors include a faulty facility design that allowed water to accumulate on the floor near equipment and made the equipment very difficult to clean and sanitize. A regulatory inspection of the facility on Sept. 10, 2011 discovered multiple positive samples of Listeria on many different food-contact.

The government representatives said that while the farm was a registered packing facility, as required by law, no inspection had been conducted since it registered in July 2010. A third-party food-safety audit gave the farm and its facilities a clean bill of health in August 2011.

What is a Cantaloupe?

The cantaloupe derives its name from the ltalian papal village of Cantalup, where it was first cultivated around 1700 A.D. It belongs to the same family as the cucumber, squash, pumpkin and gourd, and like many of its relatives, grows on the ground on a trailing vine.

Since bacteria can grow on the surface of most melons, it is important to wash the outside of the cantaloupe thoroughly before cutting into it. Remember to refrigerate your sliced cantaloupe at 41F or below in a covered container, if you are not going to consume it immediately.

What is Listeria?

Listeria monocytogenes, commonly referred to as Listeria, is a pathogen that causes listeriosis, a serious human illness. It is unlike most other foodborne pathogens because it can grow at proper refrigeration temperatures. A person with listeriosis has fever, muscle aches and occasional gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or diarrhea. If infection spreads to the nervous system, symptoms such as headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, or convulsions can occur. Infected pregnant women may experience only a mild, flu-like illness; however, infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth, premature delivery or infection of the newborn. BecauseListeria is abundant in nature and can be found almost anywhere, there can be a constant reintroduction of the organism into the food plant, retail setting, foodservice establishment and home. It is difficult to totally eliminate this contaminant from the food-handling environment, but the goal is to control it as effectively as possible, especially where it can contaminate ready-to-eat, refrigerated foods.


  • If the facility registered with the authority in 2010, how do you explain faulty facility? It is not like the facility was built in 1950.
  • How can a farm that shipped cantaloupes all over the USA get a clean bill of health?
  • Do they not have their own Quality Assurance?
  • If there are no accreditation standards, shouldn’t the farm deploy their own (and tougher) standards?
  • Should they be operating a hardware store instead?

Food Safety at manufacturing sites, farms should be proactive and not reactive. This farm ownership and staff will suffer because they tried to save a few dollars here and there.Ask those 25 families – who lost a loved one!