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.”


Sprouts on your sandwich?

We all know that the sprouts have high vitamin content, are rich in enzymes and phyto nutrients and strengthen our immune system. In general, they are good for us. Is it worth being ill? Is it worth loosing work/productive time?

Around the holiday season last year, people started getting sick from eating raw sprouts on sandwiches from a well-known sandwich chain, primarily in Indiana. After about 140 confirmed cases, the sprouts were linked to an organic farm based in Illinois. The Food and Drug Administration released a 6-page inspection report in Feb. 2011, and found the company in numerous violations.

Some comments from the report findings:

  • Company grew sprouts in “soil from the organic material decomposed outside” without using any monitored “kill step” on it.
  • An “amphibian/reptile” was kept in the reception room of the firm, which adjoined the production area.
  • The firm couldn’t show that its antimicrobial treatment for seeds was the recommended treatment with a bleach solution.
  • Employees stored their lunches, including such items as raw bacon, in the same cooler where finished sprouts were stored.
  • Organic matter was seen on a table where sprouts were packaged, and a biofilm-like buildup was seen on sprouting trays after they were cleaned.
  • Mold like material was seen on walls and ceiling in a mung-bean sprouting room.
  • Condensation dripped from the ceiling in production areas throughout the inspection period, which lasted close to a month.
  • An outside lab that the firm used to test its water and sprouts used a method that was not validated for detecting Salmonella in those items.
  • Investigators found a Salmonella isolate matching the outbreak strain in a sample of runoff water from the company.

The owner of the organic farm has said that the nutritional benefits outweigh the risk. He also commented “Sprouts are kind of a magical thing.” He advised people to buy sprouts from someone who have a program in place that includes outside auditors.

Independent auditors? Like the ones who said everything was OK, at the cantaloupe farm or peanut processor? We must have some accountability from these third-party auditors.

The involved chain has removed sprouts from its menu following this week’s finding by the CDC. Many have taken alfalfa sprouts off its menus. They should value the well-being of customers and remove all sprouts from menu and sandwich lines. Retail stores should stop selling these items until they are grown, harvested and processed in a safe and wholesome manner.

We are hoping that the new rules of the Food Safety Modernization Act will require certain guidelines to be acceptable.

Meanwhile, feel free to search and start growing your own sprouts if you want some on your sandwich today. Safe sprouting y’all!


Fresh Produce – Bad for you?

As you take on the challenge to loose weight by eating healthier this New Year – do you know the following facts?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) annual year in review, there were 16 multistate outbreaks of foodborne illnesses in the U.S. in 2011, with five of them involving fresh produce.

Fresh produce involved: romaine lettuce, cantaloupes (two outbreaks), whole papayas and alfalfa and spicy sprouts. Two outbreaks were related to nuts, one involving Turkish pine nuts and the other involving hazelnuts. Lists for recent years are on the CDC’s website. According to the CDC, 2011 was the most active year in recent history for foodborne illness outbreaks that crossed state lines.

Some of the headlines from last year:

  • Whole fresh papayas imported from Mexico were linked to 106 people infected with Salmonella Agona. The illnesses were in 25 states and were reported between January and August.
  • Whole fresh cantaloupes from a single farm in Guatemala and sold in the U.S. were linked to 20 people in 10 states with confirmed cases of Salmonella Panama. This happened between February and April.
  • Alfalfa and spicy sprouts produced by a company in Idaho, were linked to 25 confirmed cases of Salmonella Enteritidis in five states as of July. The illnesses were reported from April to July.
  • Whole fresh cantaloupes from Colorado, were linked to 146 people in 28 states that were infected with strains of listeria. As of December 30 people died. In addition, one woman who was pregnant at the time of illness had a miscarriage.
  • Fresh-cut romaine lettuce — distributed by a distributor in Oklahoma, to Supermarkets in the St. Louis area, and other locations was involved in E. coli O157:H7 infections. As of Nov. 30, 60 people infected had been confirmed in 10 states.
  • Do we need a better safety system?
  • Do we need more regulations?
  • Do we stop eating fresh produce items? Or
  • Do we take a chance?

Challenges for the growers, farmers and everyone:

Compliance is the key to the success of any food safety system and any new system should be flexible enough so that the growers can comply.  Produce growers vary in size ranging from larger operations that grow, pack, and ship their produce both in-state and across state lines, to very small farmers who sell all their produce directly to the local public.  Some irrigate from surface water, others use ground water, some are near livestock operation.

We must consider:

1. Flexibility. Flexibility per Best Management Practices is key to the success of any new food safety system. Different regions of the country use production land very differently.  Different regions of the country use production land differently, such as continual use of specific land for produce production versus shifting use of land between pasture, other crops and production of vegetables.

2. Sound Science. Any new practices should be based upon proven and effective food safety practices and sound science.  Most of produce is not produced in an indoor or enclosed environment and should not be regulated in a manner that is unrealistic to achieve.  May be the federal government take the time to fund and complete the science and research needed to determine the most appropriate and safe practices?

3. Existing resources. Program should be coordinated with State departments of agriculture or other agencies responsible for food safety, inspection and enforcement.  Such coordination will be crucial to the success and will prevent redundancy in programming.  The funding, education and training for inspectors should be bolstered.

4. Economy. The development of any new system should consider the economic impact on various size operations across the county. Any new system should be economically viable within existing industry structures that vary across the country.

As we move forward in enhancing the safest food system in the world, we must be cost-effective, practical, use proven science and allow flexibility by working with the stakeholders in developing the best practices. We do have a diverse food production system in this country.

Now, let me go consume that fresh salad I just prepared. I am hungry!