Cookies abound during the holiday season, spreading delight with each sweet gooey bite. Some may even be tempted to eat the cookies before they are baked, but this could be a grave mistake. There are several hidden dangers to eating raw cookie dough that could turn a happy holiday into a medical nightmare.
According to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, consuming foods that contain flour that has not been cooked could result in a severe illness. This is because E. coli bacteria can live in the flour and infect a human that eats it. E. coli bacteria is typically found in moist foods and on vegetables, but can survive with minimal moisture as well. When the dried forms of this bacteria come into contact with water, they can start growing and replicating.
A small amount of E. coli bacteria can make a person violently ill. The affected experience symptoms that include abdominal pain, mild fever, vomiting and diarrhea, which is often bloody. Anyone infected with the bacteria could develop heart problems, kidney disease, or high blood pressure. Children and the elderly are among the most vulnerable patients.
Flour contaminated with E. coli bacteria led to a recall of more than 10 million pounds of flour in the summer of 2016. More than a quarter of the 56 patients in the 24-state outbreak were hospitalized. While all of the patients eventually recovered, one experienced kidney failure related to the illness.
Another hidden danger of eating raw cookie dough is contracting salmonella. The salmonella contamination typically comes from the raw eggs used to make the dough. In the mid- to late 1980s, salmonella outbreaks linked to raw eggs killed dozens of people and sickened hundreds more. Using data from the 1990s, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that the chance of getting an egg internally contaminated with salmonella is one in 20,000.
Heating the cooking dough all the way through will kill off the bacteria, making your tasty cookies safe to eat. Even if you do eat a little bit of the bacteria, your body will probably be able to fight it off. However, it is always better to be safe than sorry, especially during the holiday season.