The internet lost its mind in late June.
It all started with a well-intended message from the FDA. You know that raw cookie dough that we all love to eat (let’s be honest—the raw dough really is the best part about making cookies)? Yeah, not safe.
After this news dropped and as I clicked through stories with titles such as, “FDA: No More Raw Cookie Dough Ever,” and “F.D.A. Ruins Raw Cookie Dough for Everybody,” I was not surprised to see the fallout from this news. Raw cookie dough is the jam.
I’m not much of a baker, and I am gluten-free anyway, so I moved on from the heartbreak pretty quickly. I've thought very little of these headlines in the past 5 weeks.
Until yesterday. I referred my bored 7-year-old to one of our favorite books, which offers hundreds of activity ideas for kids. She immediately flipped to an old-favorite page, which provided instructions for an edible play dough.
Normally, I would have been all about that activity. I've saved dozens of pins on Pinterest about edible dough in a variety of flavors (Pumpkin! Banana! Birthday Cake!). Yesterday, for the first time, I shot that idea down, based on the cookie dough alert.
In case you missed the warning, the new advisory about raw cookie dough was based not on raw eggs (which carry their own risks), but on raw flour.
Picture a farm. You have some tall stalks of wheat growing under the sun, next to a pasture. Some super cute cows are grazing on that pasture, near the wheat fields. One of those cows does its business (aka, poops) near the wheat. This may seem unpleasant, but not necessarily alarming.
Here is the problem with raw cookie dough and with edible (flour-based) play doughs: Cows carry a bacteria called Escherichia coli (E. coli) in their intestinal tracts. When cows poop near wheat fields, they increase the risk that the bacteria will be introduced to the human food supply.
Cooking flour to an adequate temperature kills most E. coli bacteria and reduces the risk significantly. But flour used in raw doughs has not been treated in any way to kill off bacteria.
Not all strains of E. coli are harmful, but certain strains of this bacteria can cause serious illness or even death. General Mills is in the midst of a weeks-long recall of some of its flours due to the risk of Shiga-toxin producing E. coli. As of late July, 13 people had been hospitalized and 1 person developed kidney failure from consuming products contaminated with this strain of bacteria (although it is important to note that not all of these people specifically ate General Mills flour).
So what does this news story (and what do these sweet little cows) have to do with your kids’ play dough?
Many of these doughs--including the ones described as being edible or taste-friendly--contain raw flour.
Now, you may be thinking, “I’ve been eating cookie dough my whole life; certainly, it won’t hurt if my kids or I have just one taste.” While you may have dodged the diarrhea that comes with E. coli, keep in mind that little people are especially prone to foodborne illness. Their immune systems are still building up defenses against pathogens.
Which is to say, if you are going to walk on the wild side (and I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t), do it after they go to bed.
if you and the kiddos are into edible doughs, watch the little ones carefully to ensure that they don’t taste the dough. Also, be sure all persons who touch dough thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water after playtime, and sanitize all surfaces that have contact with hands or dough.
What do you think, parents and caregivers? Do your kids like the edible homemade doughs? Have you changed your thoughts on them since cookiegate?
*For the record, Play-Doh specifically warns against eating its product on the company website.