Licking the Beaters in the News Again

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Eating Raw Batter

It appears that people are getting sick from eating raw cake batter. For years we’ve talked about the risk of eating raw batter and dough. Originally the concern was the potential for getting salmonella from the raw eggs, but there is another possible problem that comes from the raw flour. 

bag of flour

We usually don’t think of flour as being a “risky food,” but in the past few years, there have been several outbreaks of E. coli from raw flour that have resulted in flour recalls. Flour is a natural product made from wheat that is obviously grown outdoors where it can be exposed to potential bacteria. Processing such as grinding or milling the wheat does not kill E. coli. Bleaching flour does not either. The bacteria are only killed by heat. Usually, foodborne illnesses from flour don’t happen because flour is primarily used in foods that are cooked, but eating raw cake batter or other products with raw flour can be risky.

Current Outbreak

Sixteen people have become sick with E. coli infections since February. Six of these people were so sick they were hospitalized. Several of those infected reported tasting or eating raw cake batter from a cake mix before getting sick. There is currently an investigation into cake mixes.

spatula in bowl of batter

The sick people have been in 12 different states, including South Carolina and Virginia. So far there have been no illnesses in North Carolina. They have done whole-genome sequencing tests that show that these people likely got sick from eating the same food. Right now there is no recall of cake mixes because they have not identified a specific cake mix brand. The US Food and Drug Administration has begun testing different cake mixes in search of a brand that may contain E. coli. One problem they are running up against is the long shelf life of cake mixes. They are expecting additional illnesses because people may already have these cake mixes in their pantries.

E. coli

People with E. coli infections often have severe stomach cramps and bloody diarrhea. Some have fevers. Typically this lasts five to seven days, but E.coli can be deadly. About 5-10% of those diagnosed can develop life-threatening kidney problems. One person in this outbreak has developed kidney failure from hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

Children are more at risk because their immune systems aren’t completely developed. Those involved in this current outbreak have ranged in age from 2 to 73 years old with 75% of them under 18 years old. Seniors, young children, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems are the most susceptible to any foodborne illness.

CDC Recommendations 

spatulas, flour, eggs, water, pan, and spoon and fork on counter

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has posted an investigation notice on their website and warn that eating raw cake batter can make you sick. They recommend following food handling practices when baking and cooking with cake mixes, flour, and other raw ingredients.

They specifically say:

  • Do not taste or eat any raw batter, whether it is from a homemade recipe or from a mix.
  • Do not let children eat raw batter.
  • Bake or cook raw batter before eating.
  • Keep raw foods such as cake mix, flour, or eggs separate from ready-to-eat foods. Because cake mix and flour are powders, they can spread easily.
  • Clean up thoroughly after handling cake mix, flour, or eggs.
  • Wash your hands with running water and soap after handling cake mix, flour, raw eggs, or any surfaces they have touched.

Edible Cookie Dough

You may wonder about “edible cookie dough” in products such as ice cream. Some flour and cookie dough products can be safe. These items are typically made using heat-treated flour and pasteurized eggs to reduce the risk. To make sure, read the labels to determine if the products are meant to be eaten without cooking.

For additional information from North Carolina Cooperative Extension, check out the fact sheet on Baking Food Safety at our Safe Plates Information Center. 

Cheryle Syracuse wrote this article and more similar ones for the Family and Consumer Sciences Column in the Brunswick Beacon. Syracuse is an FCS team member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center, 910-253-2610 or by email at cheryle_syracuse@ncsu.edu

Sources

Say No to Raw Dough 

E. coli Outbreak Linked to Cake Mix

Baking Food Safety