Consumer Nation

Are Cookie Dough Concerns Half-Baked?


So tell me, who doesn't like to eat the chocolate chip cookie batter before it's baked? But some folks are learning the hard way that it's not a great idea.

Nestle Toll House

Nestle has recalled all of its refrigerated and frozen cookie dough productsafter health officials identified the cookie dough as a potential source of an E. coli outbreak that is now in 28 states.The outbreak has sickened 66 people, but so far no one has died. Twenty-five people, however, have been hospitalized, seven with the severe complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome, which is a disease that destroys red blood cells and causes a sudden, short-term kidney failure in children. 

A good portion of those who became ill ate raw Toll House cookie dough, which Nestle says right on the package that consumers shouldn't do.

Beyond the fact that Nestle is taking the high road and recalling the packages even though consumers are using the products in a way the company never intended, it just may be that it's not the cookie dough making people sick.

"Nestle should be commended for stepping up," says Kathryn Boor, a professor at Cornell University's Department of Food Science.

According to Boor, it would be highly unusual for E. coli to be associated with the ingredients in the cookie dough.

Right now, the investigation is ongoing and Nestle is working to confirm through its own testing whether or not the E. coli strain is in its product. But, it has halted production at its facility in Danville, Va., where it is made as a precaution.

According to Nestle spokeswoman Laurie MacDonald, about 300,000 cases of product are expected to be involved in the voluntary recall, but the company has not yet determined what the financial impact of the recall will be.

So far, the recall has caused some confusion. Dryer's Grand Ice Cream — another Nestle unit, which makes ice cream with the Edy's and Nestle brands — was quick to issue a press release that stated that none of their products are impacted by the recall.

"Our cookie dough morsels are not made in the same plant," says Dreyer's spokeswoman Dori Sera Bailey. The morsels are also heat treated as a precaution, the company said.

Nestle's Toll House chocolate chip morsels and baking bars as well as its baked cookies are also unaffected.

Consumers are learning a lot more about these potential problems because we now have better ways of tracking these illnesses.

"This sort of thing couldn't have been dectected years ago," Boor says. However, consumers shouldn't see this as a sign that the food chain is less safe.

But the increased awareness does bring its burdens for the food industry.

"The company is responsible for the product no matter how it is used," Boor says.

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