My wife and daughter occasionaly will snack on raw cookie dough before baking a batch of cookies. I’ve warned them several times not to do that, because raw flour can be contaminated with e.coli and salmonella bacteria (from raw eggs in the flour), both of which can make you very sick. But my warnings have generally gone unheeded. I’m sure ours is not the only household with a cookie dough fetish.
Yet there is a larger point to be made about raw dough: it’s an issue that should focus more responsbility for food safety on consumers themselves.
Food safety is by and large the responsibility of manufacturers, processors and retailers. The new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) places a legal responsibility for safe food on the industry. Manufacturing plants must create and maintain a detailed food safety plan, as must their ingredient suppliers. The whole idea behind FSMA is to prevent food-borne illnesses and costly recalls, rather than wait for a contamination outbreak.
Not nearly as much discussed is the responsibility of food consumers to know the risks of certain items, like raw dough, in part because outbreaks have been infrequent. Food with raw dough carries warnings not to eat the product before baking, but more aggressive efforts to warn households to carefully read food labels and preparation directions have not been nearly as prominent as, for example, campaigns to persuade consumers to read nutrition labels.
Recently, 10 million pounds of a well-known flour brand was recalled due to safety concerns over the presence of an e.coli strain that is present in flour in its raw stage. No one has died, thankfully, but more than 40 consumers have reported illness and 11 people have been hospitalized with intestinal problems. (One reason for the recall was the practice of some pizza restuarants to let children eat raw dough while waiting for their pies). The recall was initiated out of an abundance of caution to, in effect, protect consumers from themselves. That’s a new concept in food safety recalls; seldom has the FDA pointed a warning finger at food consumers.
That may be changing in the years ahead as manufacturers and regulators gingerly try to get consumers to play their part in preventing food borne illnesses. Maybe a place to launch would be a public awareness campaign about raw dough. Here’s a suggestion for messaging: “Say No to Raw Dough!”