People Still Don't Know Eating Raw Flour Isn't Safe

Consider it as risky as unwashed lettuce.

Photo: Getty Images

When I was a kid, my Grandma would entertain the grandkids by making Play-Doh from scratch. She'd mix flour, water, salt, food coloring, and a few other items from the pantry, and it would magically become Play-Doh. It was fun to mold and sculpt and, at least according to my little brother, delicious to eat.

He really shouldn't have eaten it. Not just because we had all had our dirty hands all over it, but because it was made of raw flour. People just don't know that eating raw flour isn't safe.

While many of us grew up playing with or even eating raw flour in unbaked cookie dough, pizza crusts, or, if you're my brother, homemade Play-Doh, the Food and Drug Administration strongly discourages it.

"People don't think of raw flour as being a concern," Jenny Scott, a senior advisor in the office of food safety at the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition told Live Science in 2016.

While the risk is low, it's very real. The CDC issued a warning back in 2016 after an outbreak of E. coli that sickened at least 63 people in 24 states was traced to a batch of General Mills flour sold under the brand names Gold Medal, Gold Medal Wondra, and Signature Kitchens. While the outbreak triggered a recall, fast forward a few years and people still don't seem to recognize the risk of eating raw flour, even though the FDA warns consumers about it.

The reason flour is risky to eat is that while its powdery consistency looks like it's been cooked, it's actually as much of a raw food as lettuce or carrots. Flour is made from grains that are grown in fields where they may be exposed to a variety of harmful bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli. The processing that flour goes through to convert from plant to powder doesn't kill them. And unlike lettuce or carrots, you can't wash flour to clean it.

Two studies shared by the site Food Safety News highlight the fact that consumption of raw flour is a real threat to public health. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list "raw flour" as one of their seven main groups of foods that can cause food poisoning, and there have been many E.coli outbreaks in the past decade that have been linked to raw flour.

Those studies suggest that Americans need to be better educated on how to safely handle flour, so, let us be clear: Eating raw flour can be risky. The CDC has an entire web page about the dangers with the evocative title of Say No to Raw Dough. The main takeaways are not to eat raw dough or batter (even cookie dough); of course, they typically come with the double whammy of raw flour and raw eggs. The CDC also recommends that you always wash your hands, tools, and countertops after handling raw flour or dough; and don't let kids play with raw dough or homemade Play-Doh—and definitely don't let them eat it.

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  1. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Raw dough's a raw deal and could make you sick.

  2. Pappas S. Raw food warning: Why uncooked flour can make you sick. LiveScience.

  3. Multistate Outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli Infections Linked to Flour (Final Update). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published September 29, 2016.

  4. Rettner R. Flour recall: Do you really need to throw it out? LiveScience. Published June 1, 2016.

  5. U.S. Food & Drug Administration, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Handling flour safely: What you need to know.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Foods that can cause food poisoning.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reports of selected E. coli outbreak investigations.

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Say no to raw dough.

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