If you pay any attention to the media—that would be us—someone is always showing you a study or report suggesting that your favorite food will kill you. That's until the next study comes along, claiming that the same food may actually be fine for you—or, even, a terrific idea for your diet.
We’ve heard it about everything from pasta to wine to coffee and chocolate, but recent reports that eating raw cookie dough may kill us really was a kick in the gut. The recent FDA advisory minced no words: Cookie dough contains raw eggs and raw flour, both bringing with them health risks ranging from salmonella to E.coli.
Public health expert Brian Zikmund-Fisher—associate professor of health behavior and health education, as well as the interim co-director of the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine at the University of Michigan—said in a recent article published in The Conversation that this worry might well be over-stated. He admitted that he and his family make and eat raw cookie dough on a regular basis; to take precautions, “We use eggs that have been pasteurized to kill any harmful bacteria without actually cooking the egg itself."
As for the raw flour, there have been recalls of some major flour brands in the last few months, but Zikmund-Fisher said that’s not a reason to stop eating the dough. You should of course dispose of any flour you've bought if it's been recalled, but otherwise? You're probably fine. “When we know that a product is contaminated, we can and should make absolutely sure to get rid of it. As soon as I read the recall notice, I checked whether my extra flour was recalled. It wasn’t. If it had been, or even if I hadn’t been sure, I would have thrown it out, no questions,” says Zikmund-Fisher.
“When a public health agency unequivocally states 'don’t eat raw dough' (regardless of whether flour or other ingredients were affected by a recall or not), it is implying (falsely) that no one could rationally disagree,” he adds. But Zikmund-Fisher is a public health expert and DOES disagree, rationally.
“Whether something is necessary or not is not a scientific judgment. It is a value judgment. An FDA official may personally believe that eating raw cookie dough isn’t important and choose to never eat it. That is their choice. At the same time, I can believe that eating cookie dough (made from flour known to be not part of the recall and pasteurized eggs) is something that I enjoy enough that I’m willing to put myself and my children at (a very small) risk to do,” he says.
"We can’t pretend that we live our lives without risk. I put myself and my children at risk every time we get into our car. Every time we eat sushi or rare hamburgers. Every time one of us takes medications. Every time we ride a bike or play soccer," he adds.
Zikmund-Fisher’s point is that while risk exists in everything, the idea of making all your decisions about living based on the chance of potential risk—vs. actually LIVING—is, well, just half-baked.
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