Centers for Disease Control

Killjoy CDC Warns Nation: 'Say No' to Delicious Raw Cookie Dough

Risks vs. rewards

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Sarah Marchant/Dreamstime.com

Here's a holiday warning from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC): Don't eat raw cookie dough, no matter how deliciously sweet it might be.

"When you prepare homemade cookie dough, cake mixes, or even bread, you may be tempted to taste a bite before it is fully cooked," the CDC notes in a message (headlined "Say No to Raw Dough!") recently posted to its website. "But steer clear of this temptation—eating or tasting unbaked products that are intended to be cooked, such as dough or batter, can make you sick. Children can get sick from handling or eating raw dough used for crafts or play clay, too."

As a kid with a sweet tooth and a craving for uncooked dough, I had to be told repeatedly to wait for the cookies to come out of the oven before gobbling them down. My parents' reasoning was always the same: The dough has raw eggs in it.

The CDC says that's a valid concern. "Raw eggs that are used to make raw dough or batter can contain a germ called Salmonella that can make you sick if the eggs are eaten raw or lightly cooked," the warning states. And Salmonella can cause diarrhea, fever, and cramps.

But the raw eggs aren't the only danger. The CDC notes that raw flour "hasn't been treated to kill germs like Escherichia coli (E. coli)," which can cause cramps and diarrhea (again) as well as vomiting. Most flour probably doesn't have E. coli, but the CDC would rather Americans be safe than sorry.

So there's definitely a risk. Between December 2015 and September 2016, 63 people became ill in an E. coli outbreak linked to raw flour. And in case you were wondering (I was), consuming raw cookie dough seems to have claimed the life of at least one person.

That said, smart consumers measure risks against rewards. As far as I can tell, there's just the one example of a raw-dough related death. And the vast majority of people who eat raw dough never get sick.

As Dr. Brian J. Zikmund-Fisher, an associate professor of health behavior and health education at the University of Michigan, noted in a 2016 piece for CNN, it's impossible to rid our lives of risk. The question for cookie dough lovers, then, is whether the miniscule health risk outweighs the fleeting joy of devouring dough.

So this holiday season, enjoy your raw cookie dough. Or don't. It's completely up to you. As for children, concerned parents are well within their rights to forbid them from eating the stuff. But a word of advice: They probably won't listen. I know I never did.