This Holiday Season, Think Twice Before Tasting the Cookie Dough

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Making festive cookies—and licking the bowl—is a time-honored holiday tradition. But while you likely know that raw eggs carry a potential Salmonella risk, it isn't safe to sneak bites of batter even if you opt to use another binding agent. As The New York Times reports, uncooked flour can make at-home chefs ill, according to a new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Authors investigated an E. coli outbreak in late 2015 and 2016 that caused 63 cases of illness in 24 states, and ultimately led to the recall of more than 10 million pounds of General Mills flour and dozens of products that contained the ingredient. They concluded that strains of E. coli bacteria can live in raw flour (in addition to moist food like hamburger meat and produce), and might be more of a widespread health hazard than researchers had previously realized.

"Linking this outbreak to flour was challenging," the report says, according to CNN. "Consumption of raw or undercooked flour is not included on most routine state and national foodborne disease questionnaires, so epidemiologists were not initially able to assess whether case patients had consumed raw flour."

Public health officials ended up having to conduct in-depth interviews with 10 afflicted individuals to identify flour as the culprit ingredient, according to Science News. Sure enough, two of them recalled eating raw cookie dough right before falling ill. Two bags of flour used to make the treats were traced back to the same production plant, and a subsequent analysis located strains of E. coli.

E. coli can stay dormant in flour for months, but re-activates when it's added to eggs, oil, and water. Bakers can avoid infection by heat-treating raw flour, washing their hands with hot water and soap after handling it, or (sorry) by simply not giving into temptation and sneaking a bite of batter mid-baking session.

[h/t The New York Times]

10 Pickle Facts to Savor (in Honor of National Pickle Day)

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In honor of one of the year's most important food-focused holidays—yes, we're talking about National Pickle Day—learn more about the snack that's so much more than just a sidekick to your sandwich.

1. PICKLING IS THOUSANDS OF YEARS OLD.

Cucumbers, native to the Tigris Valley in India, were first pickled way back in 2030 B.C., although preserving food in a vinegar or brine solution may stretch back even further with the Mesopotamians.

2. AMERICA GOT ITS NAME FROM A PICKLE MERCHANT.

Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci was once a ship chandler, supplying merchants and sailors with supplies for their voyages, including preserved meats and vegetables. His nickname, the pickle merchant, likely arose from his former trade, although writer Ralph Waldo Emerson derisively referred to Vespucci as a “pickle-dealer” in his book English Traits.

3. THE WORD "PICKLE" COMES FROM THE NETHERLANDS.

In Dutch, to salt or brine something is called pekel. The word may also come from the German pökel or pökeln.

4. WE EAT A LOT OF PICKLES.

Americans consume about 9 pounds of pickles per person every year. The most popular type remains kosher dill, thanks to the large numbers of Eastern European Jews who emigrated to the United States and New York City in the late 19th century.

5. CLEOPATRA USED THEM TO PRESERVE HER GOOD LOOKS …

Cleopatra was supposedly a pickle devotee. She ate them regularly, believing that they helped keep her gorgeous.

6. … WHILE CAESAR AND NAPOLEON THOUGHT THEY COULD BUILD MUSCLE.

Julius Caesar and other Roman emperors had soldiers eat the crispy preserves because they were thought to provide strength. Napoleon Bonaparte, like Caesar, valued his troops’ health, and offered 12,000 francs to anyone who could safely preserve food for his soldiers.

7. SHAKESPEARE COINED THE PHRASE, "IN A PICKLE."

Shakespeare used it to refer to finding oneself in a difficult position in The Tempest. In the 1611 play, Alonso asks Trinculo, “How camest thou in this pickle?” to which Trinculo responds, “I have been in such a pickle since I saw you last that, I fear me, will never out of my bones: I shall not fear fly-blowing.”

8. PICKLES ARE CURED IN OPEN, OUTDOOR VATS.

Companies that produce pickles on a mass scale ferment their cucumbers in giant outdoor pots in a salt brine. Yes, that means anything can get in there, including bird droppings and bugs, but the sun’s UV and infrared rays help prevent yeast and mold growth.

9. THE U.S. RATIONED PICKLES DURING WWII.

Forty percent of all pickles produced in America were set aside for the Armed Forces and soldiers’ ration kits.

10. THE PHILADELPHIA EAGLES USED PICKLE JUICE TO BEAT THE COWBOYS.

During a hot September 3, 2000, game in Irving, Texas, when temperatures on the field of Texas Stadium reached 109 degrees, Philadelphia players chugged pickle juice and credited the briny solution for their 41-14 win. The Eagles outgained Dallas 425-167, and defensive end Hugh Douglass said, “I may start drinking pickle juice when I’m home chilling.”

A BYU study later confirmed that drinking pickle juice can help relieve a cramp 37 percent faster than drinking water.

9 Vintage Thanksgiving Side Dishes We Shouldn’t Bring Back

We all have that aunt—the one who’s been bringing her Miracle-Whip-bound pimiento-pea salad to Thanksgiving dinner since time immemorial. Although you may swear she got her recipe straight from the devil, it turns out that cheese-and-lime-Jell-O salads and their ilk were all the rage in her day. So it’s not (totally) her fault! To cut her a little slack, here are some examples of vintage Thanksgiving-themed recipes that will make her salad look like a perfectly golden-brown turkey.

1. CRANBERRY CANDLE SALAD

Best Foods Mayonnaise Ad 1960s with Jello Molds

Nothing complements the tart, refreshing flavor of cranberry sauce like some gelatin and salty, eggy mayonnaise. If that weren’t weird enough, this recipe also tells you to shove a real candle in there and then light it. Ostensibly, you’re supposed to eat around the melted wax, but we can’t be sure—maybe it’s considered a condiment.

2. CANDIED SWEET POTATOES WITH ANGOSTURA BITTERS

This recipe for candied sweet potatoes, which involves baking them in a mixture of butter, sugar, and angostura bitters, is probably either really good or really bad. It sort of makes sense, adding bitters to cut down on the sugar factor. Alternatively, you could just not make a candied version of something that already has the word sweet in its name.

3. CREAMED ONIONS

This once-popular Thanksgiving mainstay has been neglected over the last century, for perhaps obvious reasons. In some households, the idea was to pour creamed onions over the turkey, like gravy, to add a little moisture. Or possibly because eating a chunky mouthful of pearl onions and cream sauce by itself is gross.

4. TURKEY AND STUFFING ON JELL-O

Thanksgiving Jello Ad

There’s not much to this one, is there? It’s a pile of turkey and stuffing dumped on top of a cranberry orange Jell-O ring—sounds delicious!

5. WINTER CORN

This mixture of corn, sour cream, and bacon is sometimes found on Midwestern Thanksgiving tables. It’s mostly off-putting because its main ingredient is creamed corn. That said, creamed corn really needs all the help it can get, so adding bacon can only improve it.

6. SWEET AND SOUR TANG POPCORN (A.K.A. ASTRONAUT POPCORN)

Reportedly, this was a popular Thanksgiving dessert in the ’70s. The idea seems to be an offshoot of caramel corn, but … with Tang powder.

7. HOT DR. PEPPER

You gotta give the good folks at Dr. Pepper a few points for at least trying here. They noticed that soda was not often considered a cozy, comforting holiday drink, and they stepped up to the bat undaunted. Bold move.

8. FROZEN JELLIED TURKEY-VEGETABLE SALAD

There’s only one way to improve a dish as alluring as Jellied Turkey-Vegetable Salad, and that’s to stick it in the freezer. From the sound of the recipe—which combines cream of celery soup, salad dressing, diced turkey, vegetables, and gelatin—this is basically the inside of a turkey pot pie if it was served frozen. And also if it was square.

9. JELL-O FRUIT CORNUCOPIA

Sure, cornucopias were for holding food in olden times, but don’t you wish you could eat one? Well, guess what—your years of longing are finally over, because someone has made a Jell-O version of one with fruit trapped in it. You don’t even have to take the fruit out of the cornucopia this time—you can just pop the whole thing in your mouth. Dreams do come true.

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