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Eating Raw Cookie Dough Can Be Deadly

Cookie Dough

Who hasn't sneaked a spoonful of raw cookie dough at some point? We're probably all guilty, but after hearing the story of Linda Rivera, you may never eat raw cookie dough again.

In 2009, Rivera ate a few spoonfuls of prepackaged cookie dough, her son Richard Simpson told a Food and Drug Administration panel on food safety. She became seriously ill, her kidneys stopped functioning and she went into septic shock.

Rivera was hospitalized but unfortunately became sicker. More of her organs failed, she suffered brain injury, a section of her large intestine was removed, and she developed infections while hospitalized. She was placed on a ventilator for several months while in a coma. After four agonizing years, Rivera died in July 2013.

Why did Rivera get so sick? The raw cookie dough she ate was contaminated with E. coli (Escherichia coli).

For most people, E. coli just causes an unpleasant bout of abdominal cramping and diarrhea, says Scott Youngquist, MD, an emergency physician at University of Utah Health. "In the vast majority of people, just keep up with your hydration status and stay nourished, and these are cleared by the body without assistance of antibiotics," he says.

But some people develop complications, which is what happened to Rivera. The family sued the cookie dough manufacturer, Nestlé, and settled for an undisclosed amount. In 2009, Nestle recalled its Toll House cookie dough after dozens of E. coli illnesses were reported.

Youngquist says it's difficult to tell what ingredient in processed cookie dough was the culprit, although food safety experts believed, surprisingly, that the flour was to blame. Raw eggs are typically the biggest risk factor. E. coli outbreaks have also been linked to foods as diverse as fresh spinach and peanut butter.

"We really are kind of at the mercy of food producers and the FDA to make sure the food supply is safe," he says. Home cooks can lower chances of E. coli contamination by thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables, cooking meat thoroughly, preventing cross-contamination by washing counters, cutting boards and utensils, and avoiding raw chicken, eggs and, of course, cookie dough.