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FDA proclaims “Don’t eat raw (cookie) dough”: Baking a batch of paternalistic fear

(AP Photo/Larry Crowe,)

(AP Photo/Larry Crowe)
The cookie-cutter safety regime of America has sunk another small joy: cookie dough.

“The bottom line for you and your kids is don’t eat raw dough. And even though there are websites devoted to ‘flour crafts,’ don’t give your kids raw dough or baking mixes that contain flour to play with,” the FDA announced, calling raw dough a “raw deal.”

The dangerous culprit is flour, so even vegan cookie dough that lacks eggs isn’t safe from the blanket ban. Flour can carry bacteria that causes diseases such as E. coli or salmonella. Hence: Keep out of reach of children, and keep it out of hungry mouths.

“Everything fun causes death,” Allison Carter wrote for the Indianapolis Star. “Weep for a tiny sliver of happiness that has evaporated in the name of adulthood and safety.”

The dough isn’t safe to eat until it’s heated in some form, usually by baking, that kills the bacteria.

The worst-case scenario of death from eating raw dough is rare, but not unheard of. The approach of a total prohibition, though, is extremely conservative.

“While there are tens of thousands of cases of salmonella poisoning in the US each year (with most occurring in children under the age of 15), only about 1 out of every 20,000 eggs is contaminated,” Munchies reported. “You’re much more likely to get a bad case of food poisoning from undercooked meats and unpasteurized dairy products.”

Like most of the FDA guidelines, the advice isn’t bad, but it’s extremely cautious. Like an aunt who has a story about a friend of a friend who caught every disease possible, the world isn’t as dangerous as some government agencies would have Americans believe.

The risk of getting sick from raw cookie dough is real, but it’s small. Someone with a weak immune system shouldn’t embrace the free-wheeling, life-on-the-edge approach to raw dough like a healthier peer, but it’s a risk that’s so small, most people don’t need to break a sweat if they take a bite.

Embracing risk and danger is a part of life. Caution about an undercooked steak is more warranted than a fear of cookie dough. Sometimes, the FDA protests too much.

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