Currently browsing posts about: Cookie-dough

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.

Jul 11 2009

The Cookie Dough mystery deepens

I’m in Alaska this week and out of Internet contact most of the time so it’s been hard to follow the cookie dough story.  It seems that the strain of E. coli found in the cookie dough does not match the strains in the people who have gotten ill from (presumably) eating it.  The FDA can’t figure out how E. coli got into the cookie dough.

When I can get to a computer, I like to check the FDA page on this outbreak, and also the one from the CDC.  But it looks like they are only updating the pages about once a week.  So the quickest way to keep current on this is through Bill Marler’s blog.

[Posted from Anchorage]

Jun 30 2009

E. coli found in cookie dough

The story thus far:

From January to June 2009, at least 69 people from 29 states have gotten sick with E. coli O157:H7.  Many of them confessed to eating Nestlé’s raw cookie dough.

On June 19, the FDA warned the public not to eat Nestlé’s raw cookie dough.  Nestlé issued a “voluntary’ recall.

Everyone is baffled about how E. coli O157:H7 could have gotten into cookie dough.  They wonder if cookie dough really is the cause.

The voluntary recall isn’t working (most don’t).  Obama Foodorama has no trouble finding plenty of recalled cookie dough on Washington DC shelves.

The Wall Street Journal reports that since 2006, Nestlé has consistently refused to allow FDA investigators to look at their safety records.  The company doesn’t have to.  All those pesky regulatory requirements are voluntary (that word again).

But now, in a spirit of someone more enforced cooperation, Nestlé lets the FDA in.  Bingo.  On June 29, the FDA says it finds E. coli O157:H7 in one batch of cookie dough.    But conversations with FDA officials leave many questions unanswered.

Nestlé is understandably concerned.   The company says it “deeply regrets” what happened and is fully cooperating with the FDA.

OK.  So if we didn’t know it before, we know it now: “voluntary” is a euphemism for not having to do anything.  Doesn’t this suggest the need for some real regulations?

Jun 27 2009

At last: some clear thinking about cookie dough

OK, so Bill Marler is a class action lawyer* who makes his living from suing companies that produce unsafe food. I’ll grant that he has a vested interest but I admire the way he never loses sight of the harm done to innocent adults and children.  Cookie dough has a warning label on the package and everyone knows you are not supposed to eat raw cookie dough.  If you eat it, it’s your fault if you get sick, right?  See what he has to say about that one.

In Marler’s view, the warning label on commercial raw cookie dough should read something like this:

THE FDA INSPECTION MEANS NOTHING. THIS PRODUCT MAY CONTAIN A PATHOGENIC BACTERIA THAT CAN SEVERELY SICKEN OR KILL YOU AND/OR YOUR CHILD. HANDLE THIS PRODUCT WITH EXTREME CARE.

And, he asks, “Where is the multi-million dollar ad campaign to convince us of the dangers of uncooked cookie dough, like we do for tobacco?”

I would add a few further questions: What are we going to have to do to get a real food safety system in this country?  By real food safety system, I mean one that requires production of all foods – from farm to table – under science-based food safety plans (HACCP with pathogen reduction), overseen by a single federal agency that unites and rationalizes the current functions of USDA and FDA.

Everyone knows how to produce food safely or a lot more safely than is being done now.  If companies don’t bother, it’s because they don’t have to. You don’t like this?  Complain to Congress!

*Correction: See Mr. Marler’s comment below.  He says he mostly represents individuals.   I do apologize for the error.

Jun 20 2009

How could E. coli O157:H7 get into cookie dough?

Thanks to Bill Marler for discussing this question on his blog this morning and for suggesting starting with the ingredient list.  As a typical example, here is the ingredient list for Nestlé’s Chocolate Chunk cookie dough (others can be found at this site):

INGREDIENTS: BLEACHED ENRICHED FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMIN MONONITRATE, RIBOFLAVIN, FOLIC ACID), SUGAR, NESTLE SEMI-SWEET CHOCOLATE CHUNKS (SEMI-SWEET CHOCOLATE [SUGAR, CHOCOLATE, COCOA BUTTER, MILKFAT, SOY LECITHIN, VANILLIN - AN ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, NATURAL FLAVOR]), MARGARINE (PALM OIL, WATER, SUNFLOWER OIL, HYDROGENATED COTTONSEED OIL, SALT, VEGETABLE MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES, SOY LECITHIN, SODIUM BENZOATE, CITRIC ACID, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, BETA CAROTENE COLOR, VITAMIN A PALMITATE ADDED), WATER, CORN SYRUP SOLIDS, MOLASSES, EGGS, EGG YOLKS, BAKING SODA, SALT, CORNSTARCH, SODIUM ALUMINUM PHOSPHATE, VANILLA EXTRACT, VANILLIN – AN ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR

MADE ON EQUIPMENT THAT ALSO PROCESSES PEANUTS/NUTS

CONTAINS: MILK, EGG, SOY, WHEAT INGREDIENTS

For starters, we don’t really know yet whether raw cookie dough is the source of this E. coli outbreak.  It could be something else, and Nestlé will have recalled 300,000 cases purely out of precaution.  The most likely source of bacterial contamination is eggs, but eggs typically carry Salmonella, not E. coli O157:H7.   And besides, the eggs in raw cookie dough are undoubtedly pasteurized, which ought to kill any bacteria that happen to be present.

The usual source of this toxic form of E. coli is cow manure.  Cows that carry this bug do not necessarily become ill, but they excrete it. Recall the spinach E. coli outbreak in 2006?  The spinach field was one mile away from a cattle crossing over a stream.  California investigators identified the particular strain of E. coli that caused the problem in cattle, cattle feces, and water at the cattle crossing, but did not found it in the field.

All they could do is speculate. Their leading hypotheses were runoff, a change in the water table, and (my favorite) wild boar.  Unfortunately for this last theory, when they surveyed wild boar for E. coli O157:H7, they found fewer than 0.5% to carry it.  So how E. coli got into the spinach remains a mystery.

As for the cookie dough, I’m guessing that everyone involved is having a busy weekend testing the ingredients, the packing plants, and everything else they can think of.  Let’s hope they find the source right away.

Jun 19 2009

Cookie dough alert: E. coli O157:H7

As a result of investigations in Colorado, the FDA has just issued one of it’s lovely warnings of “voluntary” recalls, this time of Nestlé ‘s raw Toll House cookie dough (see product list).

I’d like to know if cookie dough is really the problem.  If there is a problem with cookie dough, it’s usually Salmonella. If cookie dough is the culprit, how on earth did this nasty form of E. coli, usually excreted by farm animals, get into it?  Eggs?  Butter?  Chocolate?  Flour?   In the meantime, the tally has reached 65 victims in 29 states: 25 hospitalizations, 7 with severe complications, no deaths.  Here’s the brand new CDC Nestlé Toll House Cookie Dough outbreak page with the statistics.

The roster: spinach 2006, pet food 2007, tomatoes (or was it jalapeno peppers or cilantro) 2008, peanut butter 2009, pistachios 2009. And now cookie dough.

The endless mantra is that we need prevention: HACCP, pathogen testing, and independent third-party verification.

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