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Is It Really That Bad To Eat Raw Flour?

a bowl of flour
Is It Really That Bad To Eat Raw Flour?Getty Images

Flour is the foundation of some of our favorite foods. We can thank flour for making our breads, pastas, and pastries so good. And since it’s such a pantry staple, there’s a high likelihood you’ve consumed it in its raw form.

We've probably all been guilty of licking the beater after making a batch of cake batter or cookie dough. We’ve long been warned about how those unbaked goods are unsafe to eat, but raw eggs aren’t the only ingredient to worry about—you should also be scared of raw flour.

Why Is Raw Flour Unsafe To Eat?

rolling pin on floured kitchen worktop
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‘Wait, flour is raw?’ you may ask. Yes, it certainly is. Even though your standard all-purpose flour goes through an in-depth processing method before hitting supermarket shelves, it’s still uncooked wheat. And without heat exposure, there’s potential for harmful bacteria to linger in your bag of flour. The two main concerns? Salmonella and E. coli.

In mild to moderate infections, Salmonella and E. coli can cause upset stomachs, vomiting, diarrhea, and fevers. But if you have a weakened immune system or preexisting conditions, there’s a chance that a raw flour-induced food borne illness can be much more serious. Salmonella, in particular, is the top microorganism that causes hospitalizations and deaths.

“Salmonella can cause salmonellosis and typhoid fever, which are life-threatening illnesses,” says Megan Meyer, PhD, science communication consultant. “Salmonella cause about 1.35 million infections, 26,500 hospitalizations and 42 deaths in the U.S. each year.”

Some of these infections can be attributed to raw flour, according to the FDA. The agency reports that there have been 168 known illnesses and 20 hospitalizations since 2009 that are directly linked to consuming products with uncooked flour. But there are likely several other cases that haven’t been reported. And if you’re one of the many people who enjoy eating raw cookie dough or cake batter, the inclusion of raw flour and raw eggs double your odds of infection.

“According to a 2019 FDA survey, more than one third of Americans report consuming raw flour in the past year, with many reporting that uncooked flour is not likely to contain microorganisms that cause illness,” Meyer says.

How To Avoid Getting Sick From Raw Flour

kneading bread dough with hands
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With a large portion of the population unaware about the dangers that lurk inside your bag of flour, the FDA has launched a dedicated food safety campaign, titled “Never Devour Raw Flour!

Officials recommend keeping raw flour away from kids—especially in crafts like homemade play dough. They also advise following instructions for baking mixes and recipes to make sure that your flour is cooked thoroughly before you eat it. And, for goodness sakes, don’t eat raw cookie dough!

If you still have a hankering for cookie dough and want to avoid risking serious tummy troubles, you’re in luck. We have our very own recipe for edible cookie dough that tastes just as delicious as the real thing. The secret? The recipe calls for pre-cooking your flour in the microwave to kill the bacteria before adding it to the bowl and skipping raw eggs entirely. We stir in chocolate chips, but you can also experiment with more fun mix-ins like nuts and sprinkles.

And while we're talking about flour food safety, did you know that the pantry essential actually expires? For more info, check out our guide to its shelf life.

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