When you think about sampling cake batter or raw cookie dough for those holiday treats – dangers from Salmonella in raw eggs is no longer your only concern – E. coli linked to flour can also create foodborne illness.
A study published published in November 2017 the New England Journal of Medicine details an outbreak of E. coli in 2016 linked to flour and found that the problem may be more common than previously thought.
Between December 2015 and September 2016, 63 people in 24 states developed an E. coli infection from eating raw or uncooked flour, reports Samuel J. Crowe, Ph.D., M.P.H., an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the lead author of the study.
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Case Count Map of Multi-state Outbreak of E. coli Infections Linked to Flour
The CDC also detailed the outbreak that caused 63 cases of illness across 24 states – 17 of which were hospitalized.
The CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration identified the outbreak and began an investigation in June 2016. General Mills flour was first identified as the potential cause, and the company announced a nationwide recall of three of its brands: Gold Medal, Gold Medal Wondra and Signature Kitchens.
Though the primary source of contamination with the E. coli bacteria is unclear, researchers speculate that a contaminated wheat field may have been to blame.
In July 2016, after tests confirmed that the flour was to blame, the recall was expanded to include flour produced between November 14, 2015, and February 10, 2016. In addition, at least five other companies that used recalled flour in their products announced recalls, including Betty Crocker cake mix, Marie Callender’s biscuit mix and Krusteaz pancake mix.
Symptoms of E.Coli Foodborne Illness
Symptoms of E. coli can begin one to 10 days after exposure to the bacteria. They can include stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and fever, according to CDC. Most people get better in five to seven days.
However, some develop a severe complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome, in which the kidneys stop working. This can be life-threatening, and patients who recover may experience permanent kidney damage.
Sources of Potentially Tainted Flour
The best way to avoid an E. coli infection from flour is to avoid consuming it before it’s cooked, but that isn’t always so easy. Below are five sources you should watch out for if you want to avoid an E. coli infection.
Raw dough and batters. Products meant to be eaten without cooking – cookie dough, pizza dough, and cake and pancake batters—are risky, so you should be careful not to eat them before they’re cooked.
Arts and crafts materials. Websites devoted to pantry-based projects offer recipes for modeling clay, playdough, spray glue, papier mâché, and ornaments with flour as the main ingredient. We recommend that you avoid making these mixtures with kids.
No-cook dishes. Some recipes for truffles, icing, and cookies call for flour but don’t involve heating or baking. If the recipe doesn’t require the dish to be thoroughly cooked, skip it.
Contaminated cooking and eating surfaces. Flour is light and powdery, and can easily fly everywhere in your kitchen if you aren’t careful. Even minuscule amounts of tainted flour can make you sick, so be sure that foods that will be eaten raw don’t come into contact with flour-dusted counters, cutting boards, plates, and the like.
Containers you use to store flour. When you purchase a new bag of flour, you might dump the new flour into a bin or canister that has old flour in it, which might be tainted. If you’re not sure whether the old flour has been recalled, throw it out. Make sure that you thoroughly clean the storage container before using it again.