by Marion Nestle
Jan 14 2010

On the food safety front…

Cookie dough: Nestlé reports that it has again found E. coli O157:H7 in its cookie dough and will now be heating the flour before using (see, the New York Times account, and the report from FoodProductionDaily.com.

This is odd.  How do they know that the flour is the carrier?   As I discussed in previous posts, the source of the contaminating bacteria has either not been found or not announced.  This action implies that the company must think the flour is at fault.  Let’s hope so.  We certainly don’t want the chocolate bits to be the carrier.

FDA news: The FDA announced yesterday that it has appointed Michael Taylor as Deputy Commissioner for Foods.  This is a new office at FDA which, if Congress ever gets around to passing it, will be responsible for implementing the preventive control provisions of the food safety bill.  Peventive control, I’ve just learned, is the new euphemism for HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point).

As I describe in a previous post, Mr. Taylor’s appointment is not without controversy but his expertise in food safety runs deep.  I think this is a good move for FDA.

Update January 15: And here is what the Washington Post and the New York Times have to say about Taylor’s appointment.  I’m quoted in the Post story.

He is the quintessential revolving door,” said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. Taylor’s support for BGH and Monsanto’s other genetically modified products at the FDA was “questionable,” she said. “On the other hand, when he went to USDA, what he did there was absolutely heroic. He’s been very strong on food safety.

  • Erin O.

    Come on Nestle! I could look past one instance of e.coli, but it happens again? I may not buy these anymore, and I really love them! I had some last night. One question- when you bake the cookies, does it kill off the e.coli?

  • misha

    WTF? The flour? Has flour ever been found with e.coli? E.coli comes from animal sources, and eggs are a particularly high risk food. The only way that vegetable sources can become contaminated with e.coli is by coming into contact with eggs, feces, or meat – like the raw spinach recall a few years ago, where spinach was irrigated by water contaminated by a cow farm.

    It sounds like Nestle just doesn’t want to pay the few cents extra to replace the eggs – a known high risk carrier of e.coli – with healthier, safer, slightly more expensive ingredients. Sad.

  • Marion

    @Erin: yes, heat is a kill step. That’s why the company is heating its flour.
    @Misha: I hope you are referring to Nestle the company, and not me. My guess is that the company is testing the eggs and they are coming up negative, but I wish they would say.

  • Emily

    I’ve long believed that one of the secrets to good health is cooking from scratch. Obviously this isn’t 100%, but when I bake cookies, I am quite certain that nothing on my side is contiminated with, say, poo. Further, if I actually have to mix flour, sugar, butter, eggs, and favorings, shape the cookies, and then bake them, I’m going to see them as a treat instead of something to be eaten every day. Just sayin’.

    Plus, I know that heat kills most dangerous pathogens, but, as with irradiation, I don’t really want to eat dead fecal coliform either. I want it not to be in my food at all! You’d think I was asking for the moon….

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  • Anthro

    I’m with Emily on this–cook things yourself people. I bake my own cookies (and the eggs come from my own chickens–raised on a city lot) and they (eggs or cookies) have never in 40 years made any of us sick. I don’t heat my flour before the cookies go in the oven. Why the heck is Nestle (the company, sorry my keyboard has no l’accent aigue) heating the flour. But if cooking the cookies (!) kills the e-coli, then why are people getting sick???? Maybe some stores aren’t keeping their fridge units cold enough or people aren’t baking the cookies long enough?

    At least I know MY cookies don’t have any poo in them. I’m growing lettuce in the basement in a bucket with a little grow light this winter–no poo there either. It’s not so hard to avoid the Nestle’s (company) of the world if you try.

    Bigger question is–why can’t the FDA MAKE Nestle talk to them about what they are doing to solve this? It’s a rhetorical question, I know, but when will we (or the Congress, rather) put some teeth in the FDA?

  • Eva Saks

    Dear Marion: I just couldn’t stop hearing this bit of doggerel in my head. So now I share it with you all.

    We learned from Fast Food Nation
    What’s inside what we eat
    We ruefully discovered
    That there’s shit in the meat
    But times have gotten worse
    Oh say that it ain’t so
    It’s really just too much:
    There’s shit in cookie dough!

  • Subvert

    Make cookies from scratch…cook to 165 degrees F

    Contamination caused by sloppy sanitation/plant conditions only gets worse the further in the chain of distribution and storage you go. Temperature fluctuations (>40 degrees F) during shipping/receiving might offer a great climate for bacterial growth in the packaged product. And, if contamination exists in a packaged food product, and it goes over the 40 degree mark, it may stay there for a while until it chills back down, allowing a great environment for growth.

    Regarding the heat treatment of the flour, it is alarming… Are they questioning the safety of the raw material? Where are they getting their flour from..? I would hate to think their suppliers could have contaminated flour, especially with E. Coli. Are they not doing raw material analysis on their ingredients? There should be in place some specification for micro counts in the ingredients.

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