Here's Why You Should Never Eat Raw Flour
You've probably heard that raw cookie dough isn't safe to eat (and you've probably had a taste anyway). While it's true that it's already not safe to eat cookie dough with raw eggs mixed in, raw flour isn't safe to eat either. Raw flour is one of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) top-listed foods associated with foodborne illness and food poisoning alongside raw meat, eggs, and seafood. In fact, two recent studies raised concerns that consumption of raw flour represents a public health risk, noting many E.coli outbreaks in the past decade have been linked to raw flour. Learn more about why eating raw flour is not recommended by food safety pros. And if you are still craving a taste of cookie dough right out of the bowl, we've got you covered with a tip on how to make raw flour safe to eat.
Can Raw Flour Make You Sick?
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the CDC, you need to be cautious of raw flour, which can be contaminated with bacteria like E. coli. Flour is usually made with wheat, which is grown in fields and not usually treated to kill bacteria before being milled into flour. That means that natural elements like animal waste can come into contact with the grain, which could then transfer bacteria.
Luckily, you don't really have to worry about leftover bacteria when you're cooking with flour. Steps like baking, microwaving, boiling, roasting, and frying will all kill any bacteria that might otherwise cause an infection. But when you're adding a scoop of flour to your cookie dough, it hasn't gone through any cooking process yet, so it still might be contaminated with bacteria that can make you sick.
While baking flour should kill any bacteria, Foodsafety.gov still recommends throwing out any flour that's been recalled. Don't take a chance on cooking with it, because even if the cooking process kills the bacteria, it can still contaminate other areas of your kitchen. For example, if you spill some on the counter and don't clean it up properly, or if the flour comes into contact with other food, or if you pour it into a separate container for storage, the bacteria can transfer to other surfaces. If any of your flour ends up in a recall, don't take any chances and toss it out.
Keep an eye out for raw flour hiding in other places, too. Cookie dough is probably the most common example but be cautious of crafts that involve raw flour (especially if you have kids), like dough to play with or homemade ornaments. Also, if you spread flour over your countertop to knead dough, make sure to thoroughly clean up afterward.
And if you're someone who stores their flour in a separate container from the bag it comes in, make sure you're regularly cleaning out your storage container between batches. If you stored flour in there that was contaminated, then poured a fresh bag on top without cleaning out your container and washing it, your brand-new bag of flour will get contaminated too.
According to the FDA, children under 5, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems are the most likely to get sick from raw flour. Parents with young children should be especially cautious since sometimes daycares or preschools have homemade play clay that's made with raw flour. Common symptoms for E. coli are abdominal cramps and diarrhea, and while most people usually recover within a week, some illnesses can be much more severe, even resulting in kidney failure.
To keep you and your family safe, the FDA and the CDC recommend cleaning up thoroughly after working with raw flour by washing your hands and any bowls, utensils, or surfaces the flour was used on with warm water and soap. Also, never eat any raw dough, no matter how tempting, including cookie dough, pizza dough, bread dough, and others. Keep raw foods away from other foods while you're cooking, and be aware of how easily flour can spread around your kitchen since it's so dusty and powdery.
How to Make Raw Flour Safe to Eat
Like working with raw eggs, as long as you're careful and clean your kitchen well, you're unlikely to get sick. The hardest part is always resisting the temptation of a fresh bowl of cookie dough, but there are safe alternatives you can make to satisfy your sweet tooth. This delicious choose-your-flavor cookie dough recipe from our Test Kitchen toasts flour in the oven (aka pasteurizes) before adding to the recipe, which helps aid in killing bacteria.