THE SURPRISING SOURCE OF FOOD POISONING

For many, there is no greater indulgence than cookie dough. Adults often recount, with nostalgia, the times in their childhoods that they sneaked some raw cookie dough out of the bowl, as somebody mixed the magical concoction. Concerns about Salmonella poisoning from raw eggs emerged, however, bringing widespread attention to the issue of raw-food safety, along with warnings not to consume pre-cooked dough.

Recently, a new concern has emerged, prompting a warning from the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The latest does not involve the consumption of raw eggs – once thought the preeminent danger. This latest concern involves raw flour, which experts say lends to the possibility of E. coli poisoning. It is not just raw dough that creates a concern; the advisory said that the potential danger extends to homemade soft play “clays” and crafts that include raw dough, or raw dough given to children to play with while waiting at restaurants.

Jenny Scott, a senior advisor in FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition offered this advice: “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 warning came in the wake of reports that dozens of people had become ill from a strain of bacteria called Shiga Toxin-producing E. coli O121, prompting an investigation by the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other governmental officials. In response to the FDA warning, General Mills 10 million pounds of flour, including the manufacturers Gold Medal, Gold Medal Wondra and Signature Kitchen’s brands.

The danger lies in the fact that flour comes from field grains. Grains that grow in the fields where animals are nearby and/or free to roam are subjected to bacteria – like E. coli – found in animal waste. Because these grains are untreated (raw), those ingesting the product can become susceptible to illness.

People suffering from Shiga toxin-producing E. coli infection experience diarrhea and stomach cramps. Most people will recover in a week, but more severe cases can lead to a form of kidney failure. This is something one Las Vegas man knows all too well.

Richard Simpson testified in an FDA hearing about tightening regulations for food safety. reported that Simpson recalled the agonizing several-year ordeal suffered by his mother, Linda Rivera, after she consumed raw cookie dough produced by Nestlé. Linda Rivera’s kidneys first stopped functioning, causing her to go into septic shock. Over time, Rivera suffered additional organ failures, and despite repeated hospitals stays, surgeries and fighting “very hard,” she eventually succumbed to the illness.

According to ABC News, Nestlé voluntarily recalled its premade cookie dough in 2009 in light of several reports of E. coli poisoning. In 2010, the company a safety enhancement that involved using “heat-treated flour in the manufacture of its Nestlé Toll House refrigerated cookie dough.”

Despite the warnings, however, many refuse to give up their habit of munching on raw dough. A public health faculty member and expert in health risk communication, Brian Zikmund-Fisher said that, while he heeds the warning for recalled products, the FDA advisory does not overly concern him. Writing for , Zikmund-Fisher said that he understands the importance of the FDA warning, but he said he and his family would continue eating raw cookie dough. “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,” he said.

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