Why You Shouldn’t Eat Raw Flour Anymore

I’ve noticed something new and interesting on the flour bags I’ve been getting in recent months. It now has a label right on there saying, “Cook before sneaking a taste--Flour is raw. Please cook fully before enjoying.”

The perfect example of how people don’t like to follow all rules they should is raw cookie dough. Of course you know you aren’t supposed to eat raw cookie dough because of the uncooked egg which could cause E. coli or salmonella, yet most people admit to sneaking a pinch or two. Well, I never thought there was really any other thing to be worried about besides the egg--then I started seeing these labels on flour.

So why can raw flour make you sick? It is because flour comes from grains that are grown in fields. If pathogens get into the wheat plants via animal waste, for example, those pathogens will actually stay in through the milling process. Untreated irrigation water can also be the culprit if animals are dropping feces on and around the fields and the water is spread around.

The FDA released a Produce Safety rule under the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act that requires specific water quality guidelines and testing for irrigation water, rules for manure and compost use, and standards related to worker hygiene and equipment and tools. Raw sprouts, which are one of the worst culprits, get extra special attention through these laws.

There have been a couple of really bad outbreaks that have caused flour to be under the microscope for this. In 2009 there was an outbreak of a strain of E. coli that was found in Nestle Tollhouse cookie dough, and made people sick that were eating it raw. Nestle then started heat treating their flour to avoid this happening again, knowing that people eat raw cookie dough, even knowing they shouldn’t.

Then again starting in December 2015 there was an outbreak of a different strain of E. coli that sickened at least 42 people. This outbreak was found to be traced back to a batch of General Mills flour sold under the brand name Gold Medal, which triggered a recall.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that almost half of foodborne illnesses are caused by produce. So why are we worrying so much about flour? It is a very good question. The CDC just wants to inform us so we can make the efforts to avoid things where we can. And while the risk of illness from raw produce has been linked to more outbreaks than flour, raw produce is better understood than the largely unquantified risk from grains.

So the takeaway message is to really and truly try not to give in and eat that pinch of raw dough--just bake it first! And always wash and scrub your fruits and vegetables very thoroughly before you eat them.

Now the challenge is to get out there and bake your very favorite batch of chocolate chip cookies and all will be well with the world again :)

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    Mary Richardson
    Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2014
    Email the author! mary@dvo.com

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