Weighing the Dangers of Dough
I love eating raw cookie dough and making play dough. So, you will understand my sorrow when the FDA declared raw eggs off limits. And now the FDA suggests we skip tasting raw batter and doing doughy crafts because of flour.
According to the FDA blog, “the bottom line for you and your kids is don’t eat raw dough. And even though there are websites devoted to “flour crafts,” don’t give your kids raw dough or baking mixes that contain flour to play with.”
So, not only are raw cookies out of the picture, but so are DIY play doughs? Pinterest should be shutting down in 3. . .2. . .1.
But what is the actual likelihood of getting sick from raw flour or eggs? This is an important question for me because raw cookie dough and home made flour dough are staples at our house, so I need more than a general suggestion before quitting them.
Let’s start with a quick reminder of what salmonella poisoning is: ”Salmonella. . . doesn’t produce any visible symptoms in egg-laying hens, which means that it can pass through henhouses undetected until consumers start complaining of diarrhea and vomiting, which are sometimes so severe that they lead to hospitalization.” (Slate)
That sounds awful. I don’t want to put my family through that. Apparently, egg farmers and federal government don’t either, which is why they put safeguards in place, first with the voluntary Pennsylvania Egg Quality Assurance Program in 1992, and then with the mandatory Egg Safety Rule in 2010.
In 2010 the New York Times reported:”In the 18 years since the [Pennsylvania] program began, the percentage of contaminated poultry houses has dropped to 8 percent from 38 percent. In 1992, 26 percent of samples from Pennsylvania hen houses tested positive. Today, that’s down to 1 percent.”
In 2010, the federal government required large scale egg producers to comply with a similar safety protocol program, and expanded that program to medium scale producers in 2012. So there have been safeguards for most of the eggs we eat in place for at least 4 years.
I picked the brain of fellow Grounded Parent, J.G. Hovey, who explained “E coli and salmonella are naturally occurring in the guts of animals and that it is particular strains that aren’t evolved to live symbiotically with us that are the issue. I mention this because when I see people claiming local raised chickens don’t “get salmonella” it shows to me that people don’t understand what is meant by salmonella infection.” I am one of those local egg-buying people, so this was good to learn.
The consumer warning against raw flour stems from an E. Coli outbreak traced to flour. Thirty-eight people got sick, and General Mills recalled 10 million pounds of flour. There have been outbreaks due to many other foods, but the flour recall is unusual because it involves the E. coli strain O121. It’s different from the most common strain of E. coli (O157), but both produce toxins (STEC), which make people sick.
Weigh the risks
More people had STEC O121 than were attacked by sharks in a year (62) or killed by falling coconuts (150), but significantly fewer people had STEC from O121 than died in auto accidents (32,675) or caught norovirus (19-21 million). Each time I drive my kids somewhere, I put them in much greater danger than each time I let them lick the beater or knead DIY play dough.
Your risk of salmonella is much higher “Every year, salmonella is estimated to cause one million food borne illnesses in the United States, with 19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths.” But this statistic is for all sources of salmonella, not just raw eggs.
When put in terms of Salmonella per egg, a New York Times article states that in 2010 the number of eggs found with salmonella was “1.2 eggs per 10,000.” That’s 1 in 8,333 eggs, or one raw egg a day for twenty-two years.
Making Things Even Safer
So, in our family we will continue to lick the spoon of cookie dough and play with home made play dough because the odds against getting sick are pretty great. If you choose to do the same, there are some things you can do to move the odds even more in your favor.
First, don’t bother microwaving the flour, as has been suggested in several forums. According to J.G. Hovey, “Microwaves can only sterilize by heating, and the wavelength wouldn’t touch the whole thing. This is one of the reasons you get hot and cool spots sometimes. But, also, it needs to agitate water molecules to heat up at all, of which dry flour has none.”
Second, store your eggs in the fridge. The FDA suggests that you “refrigerate untreated shell eggs while stored or displayed at 7°C (45°F).”
Third, consider avoiding roadside stand or small flock eggs for raw use (I know this is not going to be a popular opinion, but hear me out). Farmers with fewer than 3,000 hens do not have to abide by the guidelines of the FDA’s Egg Safety Rule, and roadside stand eggs are rarely refrigerated while waiting for you to pass by. Also, Organic doesn’t automatically mean safer. Organic fed chickens can carry salmonella despite many assertions that they do not.
Finally, you can use other flours, but even those have their own issues. Almond flour, for example, is 240 more calories per cup than all purpose flour and costs significantly more.
J.G. Hovey leaves us with some last words on this: “At the end of the day every parent has to make their own common sense decisions about washing hands after certain crafts, cooking, playing with animals, washing vegetables, etc and deciding if that bite of cookie dough or pet is just part of the normal risk of being alive or not. Knowing that there was a current recall of flour, eggs, etc is part of that decision making process. And remember everything raw has a risk, even your salad greens. Keep an eye on the recalls and such, I say, invoke common sense, and try not to drive yourself nuts.”