Question: Is it true that you can get sick from ingesting uncooked flour?
Answer: While many people are well aware of the warnings against eating foods with raw eggs for fear of contracting salmonella or other foodborne illnesses, fewer people are aware of the dangers of eating uncooked flour.
It too can cause a mean case of foodborne illness. In fact, eating raw dough or raw batter could make you sick, in part, because flour can contain bacteria that cause disease, according to a warning from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Recent incidents in the U.S. and Canada underscore the issue.
Between December 2015 and September 2016, some 63 people across the U.S. developed an E. coli infection after eating raw flour. And in Canada, 30 people became sick between November 2016 and April 2017 after eating raw or uncooked flour contaminated with E. coli, according to published reports.
What is the cause of the problem?
“Flour is derived from a grain that comes directly from the field and typically is not treated to kill bacteria,” Leslie Smoot, a senior FDA advisor said in a written statement. “So if an animal heeds the call of nature in the field, bacteria from the animal waste could contaminate the grain, which is then harvested and milled into flour.”
The issue was significant enough that the FDA issued a warning to consumers last summer to not eat any raw dough. Consumer Reports and FDA lists the following ways to avoid ingesting uncooked flour:
Do not eat any raw cookie dough, cake mix, batter, or any other raw dough or batter product that is supposed to be cooked or baked.
Follow package directions for cooking products containing flour at proper temperatures and for specified times.
Avoid giving homemade modeling clay, play dough, papier-mâché or ornaments with flour as the main ingredient to young children who may, inadvertently, put these objects in their mouths.
Keep raw foods separate from other foods while preparing them to prevent any contamination that may be present from spreading. Be aware that flour may spread easily due to its powdery nature.
Make sure you throw out any old flour and thoroughly wash out the container or bin that you use to store flour in, before adding in a new bag of flour.
Follow label directions to chill products containing raw dough promptly after purchase until baked.
While most of these tips may sound intuitive, even the smallest of precautions such as washing your hands after handling any uncooked flour or any raw dough or batter can make a huge difference in helping you prevent contracting a foodborne illness.
Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or firstname.lastname@example.org.