In foodborne illness, some foods are hammered into our heads as potential dangers. Watch out for those oysters. Make sure you have that burger fully cooked. Wash your hands after handling raw chicken. But in practice, all kinds of food can become contaminated: vegetables, for example, spread almost as much E. coli as beef.
In that sense, flour may seem harmless enough, a common ingredient found in relatively safe foods like bread and pasta. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) actually lists “raw flour” as one of their seven main groups of foods that can cause food poisoning.
Anjelika Gretskaia/Getty Images
If you didn’t know, you’re honestly not alone: As the site Food Safety News reports, two recent studies suggest Americans should be better educated on how to safely handle flour.
The first study analyzed data collected by the FDA in 2019 as part of their food safety and nutrition research. It found that “most U.S. consumers do not consider uncooked flour a risky thing to consume,” with about a third of respondents saying they had consumed uncooked flour in the previous year.
The second study — titled “Online Media Attention Devoted to Flour and Flour-Related Food Safety in 2017 to 2020” — analyzed how flour was discussed online. What the researchers found was that while interest in flour was generally seasonal, it grew during the winter break, and the COVID-19 pandemic sparked a spike in interest in early 2020, “the proportion of media devoted to flour-related food safety risks or associated illness was extremely small” and tended instead to arise from “immediate responses to flour recalls”. The authors suggested that “a small number of mentions coincide with not knowing about flour-borne diseases.”
So should Americans know? The CDC has its own webpage that discusses the dangers: Say no to raw dough. But here’s the gist: don’t taste or eat raw (unbaked) dough or batter; do not allow children to play with or play with raw dough, including clay and craft dough; and always wash your hands, bowls, utensils, and countertops after handling raw flour, eggs, or dough.
And if you really want to eat some raw cookie dough or make homemade Play-Doh, try baking the flour first.