Dietitian-Approved Tips To Make Holiday Cookie Baking Safer

Discover how your holiday cookie baking can be as safe as it is festive.


Holiday cookie baking is a beloved tradition in many Minnesota households. Children love decorating colorful sugar cookies and spicy gingerbread men. And we all love stealing a taste of raw cookie batter. But we may not realize that sneaking a bite of cookie dough could be hazardous to our health. Summit’s nutrition and wellness team addresses the risks of eating raw dough, and has safety tips for holiday bakers.

The problem: flour can be contaminated with E. coli virus

For avid bakers, consuming cookie dough is one of the favorite parts of the process. Despite the temptation, most of us know that raw food isn’t always safe. When it comes to cookie dough, people assume the eggs are the danger. But flour actually contains the most risk!

A recent outbreak demonstrates the risk

A New England Journal of Medicine article published in November 2017 explains the problem. It reports that contaminated flour caused an E. coli outbreak in 24 states during 2015 and 2016. E. coli bacteria are known to infect moist foods like hamburger meat and leafy vegetables. But several outbreaks traced to contaminated flour have demonstrated that types of E. coli bacteria also thrive in arid foods like flour.

The outbreak led to a recall of more than 10 million pounds of flour in the summer of 2016. The contaminated flour sickened 56 patients in 24 states. Over the years, we’ve seen a few of these outbreaks. They don’t happen frequently, but when they do, we’ve learned that the bad bacteria can be concentrated in a small amount of flour. Eating the wrong bit of flour could make you very sick. Everyone makes choices about the risks they take in life. But comfort with risk can change when you factor small children into the mix. We want people to be aware, and we want to provide tips that will keep you healthy while you bake during the holidays and all year long.

FDA recommendations for holiday cookie bakers

The FDA has recommendations that anyone can follow during holiday cookie baking and any time you are handling flour.

  • Do not eat or play with raw cookie dough or any other raw dough product made with flour that is intended to be cooked or baked. We are talking about Christmas cookies, but people have also contracted E. coli from raw tortillas and homemade play dough.
  • Follow package directions on baking mixes and other flour-containing products. Heat will kill the bacteria. That’s why it’s important to use the proper cooking temperatures and follow directions for specified baking times.
  • Wash hands, work surfaces, and utensils thoroughly after contact with raw dough products containing flour. Washing your hands often is always good practice.
  • Keep raw foods separate from other foods while preparing them. If you are handling contaminated food, this habit will prevent the harmful bacteria from spreading.
  • Don’t eat raw dough. This applies to cookie dough you make from scratch and to dough made from baking mixes. Fortunately, ice cream products that contain cookie dough and packaged refrigerated cookie dough do not have that same risk.

Enjoy holiday cookie baking safely

It’s important to always practice safe food handling and preparation measures when working with flour. By taking a few safety precautions, you and your family will enjoy the holiday season in good health. And if you absolutely need a raw cookie dough fix, commercial treats like cookie dough ice cream and packaged refrigerated cookie dough are safe options. Unlike flour and box mixes, these products are pasteurized and heat-treated to kill any pathogens. We’re here to help you have your cookies and eat the dough too if you want to—but safely! 

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