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It might be tempting. That brownie batter smells amazing! And many have a guilty pleasure of eating cookie dough raw. They do sell cookie dough ice cream after all. It may seem innocent. But whatever you do. Don’t. Lick. That. Spoon! Here is the downlow on Raw Flour Salmonella:
Flour is Raw
It might seem obvious, but flour is raw. While it might not look as scary as a raw steak or chicken leg, it can be just as dangerous.
Most flour is raw. This means that it hasn’t been heated or treated in some way to kill germs that cause food poisoning. Harmful germs like Escherichia coli (E. coli) or Salmonella may be present.
How Do Germs Get in Flour
Germs get in flour in much the same way it finds its way on lettuce or cantaloupes. Contamination can occur at several steps in the process.
Unfortunately, processing steps such as grinding and bleaching or not sufficient to kill harmful germs, allowing those bad bugs to get into your flour or baking mixes bought at the store.
Consuming unbaked dough or batter made with potentially contaminated flour is a recipe for disaster. The only way to kill the germs in flour is by baking or cooking it.
After the batter is all mixed up, you might forget that you cracked some eggs. Batters containing raw eggs are especially dangerous. Once the sugar and cocoa are added into the brownie mixture, you can’t even tell it is there.
The bacteria haven’t forgotten.
There is a significant risk of Salmonella infection consuming raw or undercooked eggs. Brownie batter and cookie dough are not immune to this. Regardless how good it might smell, if the batter contains raw eggs, there is a good chance it has some Salmonella bacteria in it. It just isn’t worth it.
A History of Outbreaks and Recalls
Flour and cake mixes have been the subject of many outbreaks and recalls. In many cases, illnesses continue on long after the outbreak investigation is closed due to the long shelf life of the product. If people don’t realize there is a recall, a potential foodborne time-bomb might be sitting in a flour canister for quite some time.
In 2016, an outbreak linked to General Mills Flour sickened at least 63 people across 24 states with a Shiga Toxin-Producing Escherichia coli. This resulted in 17 hospitalizations. No deaths were linked to the outbreak.
In 2019, an outbreak linked to flour sickened at least 21 people across 9 states with a Shiga Toxin-Producing Escherichia coli. This resulted in 3 hospitalizations. No deaths were linked to the outbreak. Several brands of flour including King Arthur, Pilsbury, and an ALDI brand of flour as well as several brands of cookie and brownie mix products made by Brand Castle were recalled.
In 2021, an outbreak linked to cake mix sickened at least 16 people across 12 states with Escherichia coli. This resulted in 7 hospitalizations. No deaths were linked to the outbreak. A recall was not issued because traceback information could not pinpoint a specific brand.
Current Outbreak and Recall
As history often does; it repeats itself. We are now in the middle of another outbreak linked to flour with an identified recall. The bad bug in this outbreak is Salmonella.
At this time, there are 13 confirmed illnesses associated with this outbreak across 12 states. So far, 3 have had illnesses severe enough to require hospitalization.
There could be more illnesses reported as the outbreak investigation continues, as it usually takes 2 to 4 weeks for a sick person’s sample to be linked to an outbreak. Additionally, the true number of people affected by this outbreak is also likely much higher than reported, as many will recover without medical intervention and are therefore not tested for Salmonella.
Cases Date Back to December
Several cases involved in this outbreak date back to December 2022, with the first illness linked on December 6, 2022. Cases began trickling in a few each month until the last reported case on March 1, 2023.
Traceback data from patients all sickened with the same strain of Salmonella pointed to flour. But that is a vague food item. It took a bit longer for a specific brand to be linked as a possible cause.
On April 28, 2023, General Mills issued a voluntary nationwide recall of certain lots of 2-pound, 5-pound, and 10-pound bags of Gold Medal Bleached and Unbleached All-Purpose Flour.
Recalled products have a “Better if Used By” date of March 27, 2024 and March 28, 2024. See table below for specific product information.
|Gold Medal Unbleached All-Purpose Flour||5 lb bag||000-16000-19610|
|Gold Medal Unbleached All-Purpose Flour||10 lb bag||000-16000-19580|
|Gold Medal Bleached All-Purpose Flour||2 lb bag||000-16000-10710|
|Gold Medal Bleached All-Purpose Flour||5 lb bag||000-16000-10310|
More Than Baked Goods
While flour risk often highlights the most common exposure risk – baked goods batter, there are other ways that people, especially children, can become exposed to harmful bacteria lurking in the flour.
Tortillas, biscuits, pancakes, gravy, and so many other food products use flour. Be sure to wash your hands regularly while cooking with flour and treat it as a raw ingredient. Separate ready-to-eat foods from raw ingredients like meat, eggs, and flour.
Craft items can also be a potential exposure risk. Homemade playdough and certain holiday ornaments may be made using flour.
Heat Treat Flour to Reduce Risk
If using flour for a children’s craft project or cooking for someone that is more susceptible to severe symptoms of foodborne illness, there are ways to heat treat the flour to render it safer.
2 cups flour
Preheat oven to 350 °F
Spread up to 2 cups flour on baking sheet
Cook 5-6 minutes in oven set to 350 °F
Stir with whisk or fork
Allow to cool and transfer to a clean, sealable container
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By: Heather Van Tassell