There are serious health dangers to eating raw cookie dough, but there are ways to make it safe to taste.
It’s prime cookie season.
Trays of glittery sugar cookies and rolled date balls adorn many holiday tables this time of year.
But just as you’re spooning up the last bits of a batch of classic chocolate chip cookie dough and reaching for a quick nibble, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would like to remind you to “say no to raw dough.”
Earlier this month, the CDC issued a reminder to Americans to put down the spoon and resist the temptation to lap up any raw dough or batter.
Are they green grinches trying to steal our holiday joy?
Homemade doughs and batters draw the ire of CDC and food safety experts because they house two sources of possible serious foodborne illness: eggs and flour.
Raw eggs, from the yolk and whites to the shells, can carry Salmonella bacteria.
If you ingest these germs, you could develop symptoms such as diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. Symptoms of this infection will likely show up within 48 hours, but it may take longer. They can also hang around for up to a week.
Certain groups of individuals, including children under age 5, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems, may face more serious complications from a salmonella infection.
The other offending ingredient in cookie dough is raw flour.
Flour hadn’t been the center of food safety attention until 2016 when more than 60 people fell ill from raw flour contaminated with E. coli.
E. coli can cause symptoms such as bloody diarrhea, stomach cramps, and vomiting. It can be present in raw flour because the substance isn’t treated before it makes its way to packaging.
Indeed, flour can go from field to store without any sort of heat processing. That means bacteria — from animal waste, for example — can find its way into your home, mixing bowls, and cookie batter.
“Eating or tasting unbaked products that are intended to be cooked, such as dough or batter, can make you sick,” the CDC said in their statement.
“It only takes one bite or even one lick of a contaminated food to make you sick, even deathly sick,” added Candess Zona-Mendola, food and water safety advocate and editor of MakeFoodSafe.com. “But the CDC warning is not a buzzkill, it is an opportunity to make cookie dough the safe way.”
Cookie dough isn’t always off limits.
Commercial products such as cookie dough ice cream and edible cookie dough often use eggs and flour treated to kill off potentially harmful bacteria.
Cookie dough and cake batter aren’t the only possible offenders either.
Tortilla, pizza, biscuits, pancakes, and bread dough can harbor potentially harmful pathogens.
Milkshakes that use eggs or raw cake mix can be dangerous, too.
This time of year, you also have to be worried about eggnog, Zona-Mendola told Healthline.
Raw eggs in eggnog can harbor Salmonella and many recipes don’t call for cooking the mixture before drinking it.
If you want to eat your cookie dough without worrying about what could be coming around the bend, the following strategies may help.
Buy pasteurized eggs
“If the eggs must be raw, use pasteurized eggs,” Zona-Mendola said. “There is a little symbol or a disclaimer on the carton saying if the eggs are pasteurized or not. Most liquid egg mixes say this on the front of the product. You can use an egg substitute product like a vegan egg substitute, too.”
Cook your flour
“An easy way to enjoy cookie dough is to microwave the flour for one to two minutes with a 1,200-watt microwave before adding the other ingredients,” says Maleah Callison, RDN, a registered dietitian in Texas. “This may destroy some of the protein in the flour, so it would not be as good for baking, but in a raw cookie dough it would be just fine.”
You can also toast flour in the oven by spreading a thin layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and baking at 350°F for about five minutes.
As a bonus, the flour will likely have a rich, nutty flavor.
You can also completely skip the flour and egg combo.
“Chickpea cookie dough is another safe alternative. It uses blended chickpeas (garbanzo beans) with a sweetener,” Callison told Healthline.
Heat the mixture
This tip applies to raw applications with eggs, such as eggnog.
“If using unpasteurized eggs, use a recipe in which you cook the egg mixture to 160°F,” Zona-Mendola said.
It’s better to be safe than sorry — even if you really just want a tiny nibble of the sweetened dough.
“My friends, including adults who know me very well and what I do for a living, tell me, ‘I have eaten raw cookie dough since I was a kid and I am fine,’” Zona-Mendola said. “That’s the kicker. You may be fine, but someone else may not be so lucky.”
“This is especially true for anyone who is very young, over the age of 60, and who has a weakened immune system. Those in this high-risk group are especially at risk for an E. coli or salmonella infection to turn deadly,” she said. “But healthy adults can get just as sick as well.”
Leave the nibbling for the baked cookies, or if you can’t stand not having a bit of chewy dough, make sure you’re using safe ingredients such as heat-treated flour and pasteurized eggs.
This way, you won’t risk spending the rest of the holiday season recovering while everyone else gets to enjoy their festive treats.