Christmas gingerbread cookies with frosting

Sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, snickerdoodles ... there's just so many cookies to choose from during the holiday season. But one thing you shouldn't choose is raw cookie dough.

Pediatrician Rachel Heidt, of UC Davis Children's Hospital, explains why raw cookie dough is bad for children and adults.

There are two risky players in raw cookie dough: raw eggs and raw flour (bet you didn't know about that one).

Dangers of eating raw flour

Yes, raw flour can be contaminated with E. coli. Even though it's processed (i.e. ground and bleached) to become flour, it doesn't go through any steps to kill harmfull bacteria that might be present in the field or at other steps during flour production.

There have been two outbreaks of E. coli infections in recent years (2016 and 2019) linked to raw flour. These outbreaks made more than 80 people sick and led to 20 hospitalizations.

Symptoms usually present 3 to 4 days after ingestion and can include abdominal cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), nausea, and vomiting. For most people, it is a self-resolved illness. However, some people (even those with healthy immune systems) can develop a serious illness called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can result in kidney failure, stroke, and death. 

Cookie baking ingredients

Dangers of eating raw eggs

Raw unpasteurized eggs may be contaminated with salmonella which can cause food poisoning.

Symptoms usually have a rapid onset – within 1 to 2 days – and include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever. Although the illness is usually self-resolving for most healthy people, it can be much more serious in adults over age 65, children younger than 5, or those with weakened immune systems.

Tips to stay safe and healthy this holiday season

  • Enjoy the finished product! Don’t be tempted to taste raw batter and please don’t let your kids eat it.
  • Do not let children play with or eat crafts made with raw flour (i.e. homemade ornaments or play dough).
  • Do not use raw homemade cookie dough in ice cream. Store-bought ice cream with cookie dough is OK since it's been treated to kill harmful bacteria.
  • Pay attention to labels. All pre-made raw cookie dough that you break apart and bake for easy cookies are labeled with “Do not eat raw” for a reason.
  • Keep raw foods such as flour and eggs separate from other ready-to-eat foods. Flour is a powder and can spread easily.
  • Make sure to clean surfaces such as counter-tops, dishes, utensils, and your hands well with soap and warm water after handling any raw products.
  • If you or a loved one starts to feel ill, please contact your health care professional as soon as possible.

Additional resources:

CBS Sacramento – Holiday Reminder: Tell Kids 'No' When It Comes To Raw Cookie Dough

CDC – Say No to Raw Dough

CDC – Salmonella and Eggs

CDC – E. coli and Food Safety