Licking the spatula may be a tradition in your kitchen after mixing ingredients for cookies or cake, but is it safe to do?
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The answer is simple: Hold off on tasting until those goodies finish baking.
There’s a danger in eating that unfinished deliciousness, a fact proven by many food poisoning outbreaks over the years. Dietitian Andrea Dunn, RD, explains why sampling raw dough or batter isn’t something you should mix into your kitchen routine.
Should you eat raw dough or batter?
Let’s make this simple: No.
Eating uncooked dough or batter can make you severely sick. The primary risk comes from the flour. That’s right… flour. That fluffy powder may look innocent, but it should be viewed as a potentially dangerous “raw” food.
Flour is made from grain that is harvested and milled into the product sold at stores. During processing, flour is typically not treated to kill any potential bacteria that may have been picked up in the fields.
A lot of cows and other animals live near fields, and they do what animals do while ambling around in the great outdoors. That leads to possible contamination of the grain that’s turned into flour. Bacteria that could be present include E. coli and salmonella.
The high heat that goes into baking something eliminates the threat of getting sick from the flour, which is why it’s OK to eat finished goods.
“Common steps during food preparation and/or processing that kill bacteria include boiling, baking, roasting, microwaving and frying,” says Dunn. “But raw dough undergoes none of these steps, and so the dough can be contaminated.”
An additional danger: raw eggs
Raw eggs included in most cookie and cake recipes add to the risk factor. Salmonella can lurk inside of eggs, passed on from poultry that carries the bacteria. The bacteria also may be present on the thin outer shell due to bird droppings.
Children, pregnant women, those with compromised immune systems and older adults are at greater risk for poisoning from salmonella bacteria that raw eggs can harbor.
“Whenever you consume or handle raw eggs, you increase your risk of salmonella poisoning,” says Dunn. “You really want to be cautious and take steps to avoid contamination as much as possible.”
What happens if you eat raw dough or batter?
Nibbling on raw dough or licking batter before it hits the oven exposes you to some potential gut-churning outcomes that can start quickly. Signs of salmonella poisoning may begin within six hours of consumption. Illness from E. coli typically takes about three days to hit.
The resulting food poisoning symptoms could last up to a week and include:
- Diarrhea that could range from watery to bloody.
- Stomach cramps.
E. coli infections also can lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and kidney failure.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported three multistate E. coli outbreaks due to flour or cake mixes since 2016. The outbreaks led to 100 illnesses and 27 hospitalizations. Many of those affected said they ate raw dough or batter.
(Side note, ready-to-eat products that include cookie dough — the most obvious example would be cookie dough ice cream — use a dough that has been treated to eliminate harmful bacteria.)
Is dough for holiday ornaments OK?
The risk of exposure to E.coli in unbaked flour is so great that the CDC warns against letting children use homemade dough for play or crafts — and that includes dough for holiday ornaments.
Even if your kiddo doesn’t eat the dough, they may put their hands in their mouths after handing it and transmit any bacteria that is present.
Safety tips when making dough or batter
To stay safe when baking or cooking with flour and eggs, follow these guidelines:
- Do not taste or eat raw dough or batter being used for food (cookies, cakes, pancakes, pizza, etc.) or crafts (dough-based holiday ornaments).
- Follow instructions regarding cooking temperature and time to kill any bacteria.
- Keep raw foods such as flour or eggs separate from other food. Be especially careful with flour, as the powder can spread easily and potentially contaminate nearby items.
- Thoroughly clean your preparation area, bowls and utensils after using.
- Wash your hands after handling raw ingredients.
So resist the urge to lick the beater or spatula when whipping up baked goods, advises Dunn. Let that treat thoroughly bake and enjoy it once it comes out of the oven. (Just allow it to cool, of course.)