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It’s Probably OK to Eat Raw Cookie Dough — As Long As You’re Smart About It

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licking the spoon

Licking the spoon — harmless or not? (Credit: Diane Diederich/Shutterstock)

For many people, the holiday ritual of baking cookies isn’t complete without also eating some of the raw dough. In my family, questions like “Who gets to lick the beaters?” and “Can I grab a piece of dough?” were always part of the cookie-making experience.

Yet, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has repeatedly issued warnings about the dangers of consuming raw dough. Specific statements have included: “The bottom line for you and your kids is don’t eat raw dough,” “Don’t give your kids raw dough or baking mixes that contain flour to play with” and “Don’t make homemade cookie dough ice cream.”

In fact, the commissioner of the FDA tweeted a rhyme on the topic on Dec. 10, 2018: “You can not eat it in a house. You can not eat it with a mouse. We do not like it here or there. We do not like it anywhere.”

While Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s “#FDA we are” rhyme was a fun reference to the “Sam I am!” of the Dr. Seuss’ original “Green Eggs and Ham,” the FDA’s message understandably raised confusion and concern among dough-loving consumers.

So, this leads to two questions:

1) Are there really risks of eating raw cookie dough?

2) Is it appropriate for public health officials to imply that no one should eat cookie dough (something that I, and apparently many others, enjoy) because of this risk?

cookie dough milkshake

Even cookie dough milkshakes, too? (Credit: Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock)

An Important Safety Message — Or a Half-baked Idea?

To answer the first question: Yes, there are indeed at least two kinds of potential risks related to consuming raw cookie dough.

First, when most people think about health risks and cookie dough, they think about raw egg. Eggs can be contaminated with salmonella bacteria, and food safety recommendations encourage people to cook eggs until the white and yolk are firm in order to kill any bacteria.

However, anyone making cookies can do things to reduce this risk by using pasteurized egg products. When my kids and I make cookie dough, we never use regular eggs. Instead, we use shell eggs that have been pasteurized to kill any harmful bacteria without actually cooking the egg itself. (A great public health innovation, if you ask me!) As a result, we don’t have to worry about the eggs in the cookie dough.

The other, often underappreciated risk of raw cookie dough is the risk of the flour itself. While contamination of raw flour is rare, it can happen. Wheat grows in fields close to animals. When they “heed the call of nature,” as the FDA put it, wheat can become contaminated. In 2016, there was a nationwide recall of flour found to be contaminated with E. coli bacteria that led to dozens of people getting sick. Some were even hospitalized, and one went into kidney failure.

Such recall notices are extremely important. When we know that a product is contaminated, we can and should make absolutely sure to get rid of it. As soon as I read the recall notice, I checked whether my extra flour was recalled. It wasn’t. If it had been, or even if I hadn’t been sure, I would have thrown it out, no questions.

A Right to Choose?

But, this takes us to the second of my questions: If we take steps to minimize risk (such as using nonrecalled flour and pasteurized eggs), do consumers really have to stop eating cookie dough because of these risks?

I’m the last person to say that communications about public health risks are unimportant. Public health officials have a duty to warn people about the health risks associated with raw egg and even raw flour. When we have evidence that specific people are at risk, public health officials need to actively promote the actions that those people can take to minimize the identified risk. Doing so supports both public health objectives and individual decision-making.

By contrast, when a public health agency unequivocally states “Don’t eat raw dough” (regardless of whether flour or other ingredients were affected by a recall or not), it is implying (falsely) that no one could rationally disagree.

Well, I’m a public health faculty member, and I disagree.

I know that some public health officials will be horrified by my statement. They will believe that I am undermining their message and giving people permission to put themselves at risk unnecessarily.

But the key word of the previous sentence is “unnecessarily.” Whether something is necessary or not is not a scientific judgment. It is a value judgment. An FDA official may personally believe that eating raw cookie dough isn’t important and choose to never eat it. That is their choice. At the same time, I can believe that eating cookie dough (made from flour known to be not part of the recall and pasteurized eggs) is something that I enjoy enough that I’m willing to put myself and my children at (a very small) risk to do.

rare hamburger

A rare burger comes with risk on the side. (Credit: Florence-Joseph McGinn/Shutterstock)

Of Life and Risk

As public health experts, we don’t want people to treat food recalls like math problems and estimate their likelihood of getting sick. If you have affected food, you need to act. Period.

But if I know that my flour is not recalled, then there is no specific reason to believe that the flour is not OK to eat raw. The only risk is the very small, baseline risk – for example, that the flour has been contaminated by a different and as-of-yet unknown source.

We can’t pretend that we live our lives without risk. I put myself and my children at risk every time we get into our car. Every time we eat sushi or rare hamburgers. Every time one of us takes medications. Every time we ride a bike or play soccer.

Yet, many of us choose to do those things anyway, while minimizing risk when we can (for example, by wearing seat belts and bike helmets). We choose life and risk over safety and a life a little less enjoyable. It is not irrational to treat cookie dough the same way.

So, to my fellow public health practitioners: Let’s keep working on informing the public about health risks that they may not anticipate or appreciate. Motivating people to take immediate action about specific food recalls. Encouraging people to minimize risks.

At the same time, let’s all please remind ourselves that our goal is not to minimize all risk, no matter the cost. Our goal is to maximize life. Sometimes maximizing life means warning people that their flour is contaminated and making sure they throw it out. Sometimes maximizing life means letting them enjoy some (carefully prepared) cookie dough without shame.

There is risk in eating raw cookie dough. Nonetheless, as I noted in my Twitter reply to Dr. Gottleib’s rhyme: “… if raw dough makes you rejoice, accepting risk might be a choice. … But it’s your choice re what to do. Neither FDA nor I are you.”

 

This is an updated version of an article that was published originally on July 14, 2016.The Conversation

Brian Zikmund-Fisher, Associate Professor of Health Behavior and Health Education, Associate Director of the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine, University of Michigan

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Ecology

Today’s letters: ‘Visionary’ plans don’t always work in Ottawa

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The opinion piece written by Tobi Nussbaum, CEO of the NCC, declares that a “bold, visionary transit plan” would showcase the capital.

As a long-term resident of Ottawa, I’ve had it with visionary plans. In the 1950s, the streetcars serving Ottawa so well were sent to the scrapyards. In the early ’60s, Queensway construction bulldozed established neighbourhoods and ripped the city apart. Later in the decade, the downtown railway station, which could have formed the hub of a commuter network, was relocated to the suburbs. These actions, in the name of “progress,” were undertaken with the “vision” to make Ottawa a car-reliant city.

Now we have an LRT, built just in time for most people to realize that they do not have to go downtown as they can work from home.

Current thinking is pushing a new “link” between Ottawa and Gatineau, with yet more expensive and disruptive infrastructure projects being touted, including a tramway or another tunnel under the downtown core.

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That was then: Biggest earthquake since 1653 rocked Ottawa in 1925

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A regular weekly look-back at some offbeat or interesting stories that have appeared in the Ottawa Citizen over its 175-year history. Today: The big one hits.

The Ottawa Senators were playing a Saturday night game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Auditorium, the score tied 0-0 halfway through the second period. Sens’ rookie Ed Gorman and the Habs’ Billy Boucher had just served penalties for a dustup when the building began to make “ominous creaking sounds.” A window crashed to the ground.

Nearby, at Lisgar Collegiate, all eyes were on teenager Roxie Carrier, in the role of Donna Cyrilla in the musical comedy El Bandido. She had the stage to herself and was singing “Sometime” when the building rocked, the spotlight went out, and someone in the audience yelled “Fire!”

At a home on Carey Avenue, one woman’s normally relaxed cat suddenly arched its back, rushed around the room two or three times, spitting angrily, and climbed up the front-window curtains.

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Ecology

Ottawa delays small nuclear reactor plan as critics decry push for new reactors

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TORONTO — Canadians will have to wait a little while longer to see the federal government’s plan for the development of small nuclear reactors, seen by proponents as critical to the country’s fight against global warming.

Speaking at the opening of a two-day virtual international conference on Wednesday, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of natural resources said the plan will lay out key actions regarding the reactors. Its launch, Paul Lefebvre said, would come in the next few weeks.

“We’re still putting the finishing touches on it,” Lefebvre said. “The action plan is too important to be rushed.”

Small modular reactors — SMRs — are smaller in size and energy output than traditional nuclear power units, and more flexible in their deployment. While conventional reactors produce around 800 megawatts of power, SMRs can deliver up to 300 megawatts.

Proponents consider them ideal as both part of the regular electricity grid as well as for use in remote locations, including industrial sites and isolated northern communities. They could also play a role in the production of hydrogen and local heating.

“SMRs will allow us to take a bold step of meeting our goal of net-zero (emissions) by 2050 while creating good, middle class jobs and strengthening our competitive advantage,” said Lefebvre.

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan had been scheduled to speak at the conference but did not due to a family emergency.

Industry critics were quick to pounce on the government’s expected SMR announcement. They called on Ottawa to halt its plans to fund the experimental technology.

While nuclear power generation produces no greenhouse gas emissions, a major problem facing the industry is its growing mound of radioactive waste. This week, the government embarked on a round of consultations about what do with the dangerous material.

Dozens of groups, including the NDP, Bloc Quebecois, Green Party and some Indigenous organizations, oppose the plan for developing small modular reactors. They want the government to fight climate change by investing more in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

“We have options that are cheaper and safer and will be available quicker,” Richard Cannings, the NDP natural resources critic, said in a statement.

Lefebvre, however, said the global market for SMRs is expected to be worth between $150 billion and $300 billion a year by 2040. As one of the world’s largest producers of uranium, Canada has to be part of the wave both for economic and environmental reasons, he said.

“There’s a growing demand for smaller, simpler and affordable nuclear technology energy,” Lefebvre said.

Joe McBrearty, head of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, told the conference the company had signed a host agreement this week with Ottawa-based Global First Power for a demonstration SMR at its Chalk River campus in eastern Ontario. A demonstration reactor will allow for the assessment of the technology’s overall viability, he said.

“When talking about deploying a new technology like an SMR, building a demonstration unit is vital to the success of that process,” McBrearty said. “Most importantly, it allows the public to see the reactor, to kick the tires so to speak, and to have confidence in the safety of its operation.”

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