The truth about raw cookie dough is this: it’s delicious! Especially because you grew up hearing your parents and/or grandparents tell you not to eat it, which somehow makes it extra delish! But, at the time of year many people are baking up dozens upon dozens of Christmas cookies and other treats, we’re reminded constantly in the news about the CDC warnings on eating raw cookie dough. While I’m not suggesting or advocating you ignore the CDC’s warning on cookie dough (or anything else), I think it’s important to understand the warning, the risk, and of course what they aren’t telling you in those Christmas raw cookies of death warnings.
Put simply, eating raw cookie dough is a health risk because most (albeit not all) cookies have raw eggs in them. When you see “eatable” cookie dough in the store or in shops, what makes it eatable is that its made with no eggs, or made with Pasteurized eggs. Easy enough. There are two health concerns with eating raw dough:
- Salmonella bacteria which causes severe food poisoning, can be carried by eggs, and
- E. coli bacteria which can make you very ill can be found in contaminated uncooked flour
Again, not advocating to ignore the CDC warnings, but here are a few thoughts on both. I agree cracking a raw egg into a glass and drinking it, or swallowing 5 dozen whole eggs like Gaston in Beauty & The Beast is probably not a great idea. That said, if you make “homemade” foods often or eat in reasonably classy restaurants, I guarantee you eat a lot more raw egg than you think. That sandwich at the chic bistro yesterday with the homemade lemon garlic ailoi? Probably emulsified with raw egg. Homemade mayo? For sure raw egg. That frothy cocktail at the bar? The froth is probably from raw egg whites (though I could be convinced the alcohol will save you in that case). The point is, raw eggs are prevalent in cooking, let’s not single out raw cookie dough.
Contaminated flour – this is actually the scarier one to me, not because I’m afraid of raw flour, but more because of how common E. coli outbreaks are becoming – queue the national Romaine Lettuce crisis we just went through – and no one cooks lettuce… While the risk of contaminated flour is certainly there with raw flour (and cooking kills the bacteria), lots of foods can be contaminated with E. coli that you would never dream of cooking. So on the flour front, I’m not convinced the risk of consuming uncooked flour in raw cookie dough is any higher than eating basically anything else. That’s why buying high quality ingredients is a first step towards making sure your food is safe.
The bottom line: do what you think is best. If you have recently been ill, are a child or senior citizen, suffer from a depressed or weakened immune system, are pregnant or breast feeding or generally have a “weak stomach” when it comes to food, skipping the raw cookie dough (and other foods made with raw eggs) is probably best. If you’re healthy and have eaten raw cookie dough before without any issue, regularly eat homemade mayo etc., a few small tastes are probably not going to kill you. Just remember, do what’s right for you, in moderation.