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We Asked Experts Whether Eating Cookie Dough Was Safe Or Not

We asked the FDA, a germ expert, and a pastry chef.

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Hannah Wong / BuzzFeed

Licking raw cookie dough off the spoon is one of life's greatest pleasures.

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But for a long time, concerned mothers and health officials alike have warned against the habit.

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We've probably persisted anyway because we don't personally know anyone who's died from it, and well, that probably means it's safe, right?

We wanted to know: Why, exactly, is sticking a spoonful of raw cookie dough in our mouths so risky? And, more importantly, is there a way to get around the risks?

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I turned to three experts to get to the bottom of the matter: Peter Cassell, an FDA rep, Kelly Reynolds, a germ expert and health professor at the University of Arizona, and Cara Conaboy, Head of Pastry at NYC's The Spaniard.

As expected, the FDA discouraged people from eating raw cookie dough both because of the presence of raw eggs AND possibly contaminated flour.

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People are pretty aware that raw eggs are dangerous for you because they may contain salmonella. However, according to a recent FDA update, consumers should also be aware that raw cookie dough carries additional risks, such as harmful strains of E. coli in the uncooked flour.

To get a sense of that risk, here's a stat for you: In 2016, dozens of raw cookie dough-eaters across the country were sickened by a strain of E. coli.

And ugh — our germ expert ALSO emphasized that raw cookie dough may be made with flour contaminated with dirt, insects, and animal feces, and should be avoided. Gross.

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If you didn't know, flour is a field ingredient that is highly processed and can harbor bacteria. Meaning, even when a recipe doesn't even use eggs or uses pasteurized eggs, the flour in the dough itself carries a risk of illness.

And what are the risks? According to Dr. Reynolds, symptoms of infection include "stomach illness, diarrhea, vomiting and flu like symptoms. Some strains of E. coli also produce a powerful toxin that can result in bloody diarrhea, kidney damage and organ failure." Yikes.

Okay, fine fine. But what if I STILL really, really want to eat raw cookie dough and not die? Is there a way? We asked pastry expert Cara Conaboy (who admits she still eats raw cookie dough to this day) for her secret.

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If you're still dead set on eating raw cookie dough but don't want to flirt with death, Conaboy suggests toasting raw flour at 350°F for 5 minutes to make it safe, and using it in an eggless recipe. Clearly this isn't the funnest workaround, but sometimes you wanna have your cake (ahem, raw cookie dough) and eat it too.

If you're into the soft and creamy texture of raw dough, you could also try baking softer cookies. Just make sure the dough gets baked at 300-400°F for at least 10 minutes.

To get even more precise, Dr. Reynolds says that to ensure all bacteria is killed off, you should check that the flour reaches an internal temperature of 160°F.

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Of course, the time to reach the appropriate internal temperature depends on the consistency of the product, moisture level, oven temperature and microwave wattage. As Conaboy suggested, toasting raw flour at 350°F for 5 minutes will usually get your flour or raw dough to the internal temperature of 160°F.

So, I guess that's the cold, hard truth for ya: Raw cookie dough is unsafe to eat, and despite how many years you've been consuming it, you should probably think about stopping soon.

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Let's make it clear: Eating raw cookie dough carries real, proven health risks. And indulging in the practice is kind of like driving without a seat belt on — if you're still alive, it's not because taking caution is unnecessary, it's because you've been lucky and haven't gotten in a car accident yet.

But all is not darkness and sorrow, so here are four recipes for safe-to-eat cookie dough you can make at home.

Recipe here.

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