Whether you’re baking chocolate chip cookies from scratch or laying out the pre-made break-and-bake variety, few things taste more heavenly than raw cookie dough. While it’s no secret that eating raw dough poses health risks, people tend to ignore the warnings and continue licking their fingers—and the spoon, and the bowl, too.
But here’s why you should think twice before scarfing the raw stuff.
For starters, raw cookie dough is often associated with Salmonella due to the raw eggs that are used in the dough. While only about one in 10,000 eggs contains salmonella bacteria, the only way to fully kill the bacteria is by cooking the eggs or making sure that they’re pasteurized. Even though your risk of contracting salmonella is relatively low, it’s still a bacteria that you don’t want to mess with. According to Susan Whittier, PhD, associate professor of pathology and cell biology at Columbia University Medical Center, people who contract salmonella may experience fever, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps that can last up to a week. In some cases, usually in younger children, salmonella can cause kidney failure and may even be fatal.
But it’s not just the eggs in raw cookie dough that can make you sick. The FDA and CDC both suggest that eating raw flour can contain E. coli, which may also cause abdominal cramps and bloody diarrhea. Just as cooking eggs kills the salmonella bacteria, heat also kills E. coli bacteria. “Common ‘kill steps’ applied during food preparation and/or processing [so-called because they kill bacteria that cause infections] include boiling, baking, roasting, microwaving, and frying,” according to the FDA. (Here’s where germs like E. coli are hiding in your home.)
If you can’t resist eating raw cookie dough and you’re willing to take the risk, prepackaged options at your grocery store are generally safer than homemade. “Commercially prepared cookie dough is relatively safe because manufacturers now pasteurize the eggs to kill the salmonella, and they heat-treat the flour to kill other bacteria such as toxin-producing E. coli,” Dr. Whittier says. “But we have to remember, nothing is 100 percent. Manufacturing processes can break down and we end up with contaminated batches of cookie dough that will be recalled after enough consumers get sick.”
If you want to avoid a run-in with Salmonella or E. coli and a week of bloody diarrhea, fevers, and abdominal pain, your best bet is to just wait till the cookies are freshly baked, which no one would argue is a bad thing.