Why Can't I Lick the Spoon?

Posted: December 23, 2016

The risk of getting a food-borne illness can occur by tasting or sampling raw ingredients that require a cooking (heating) process. Avoid taste sampling the product during the preparation of the recipe in which raw ingredients are combined and the final product must be fully cooked.

I remember back to my childhood days of sneaking into the kitchen when my mom was making chocolate chip cookies and taking a bite of the raw dough when she wasn’t looking and scurrying away in haste not to get caught.  I don’t recall getting sick from my daring moves, but I wouldn’t be so brazen to do that today.  There have been a number of highly publicized cases of food-borne illness over the past few years linked to the consumption of raw cookie dough - a concoction of potentially contaminated food ingredients including raw eggs and flour – which was intended to be cooked before consuming.  However, too many continue to eat raw dough and those cases where the ingredients are contaminated, individuals became sick even by just taking a sample taste. 

In recent years, there have been reported cases of consumers getting food-borne illness from ingredients that typically should be cooked.  Ingredients such as flour, eggs, and frozen vegetables have been involved in product recalls after manufactures detect pathogens such as Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria in the product.  In these cases, companies found that low levels of pathogenic bacteria contaminated the ingredients, this contamination occurring either in the field or during processing.  Able to survive, these pathogens wind up in the ingredients and ingredient mixes used by consumers. When these ingredients are mixed and then handled in a way that allows for growth, then the risk for food-borne illness is increased. 

We have seen a number of examples over the past few years.  In one situation, a food manufacturer had peas with a low level of Listeria, a pathogenic bacteria that can survive freezing.  Customers added these peas to salads without any heating as called for on the label.  In this scenario, the organism contaminates the salad when these uncooked peas were introduced to the salad.  Allowing the salad to then sit at room temperature allows for growth of the organism thus increasing the risk.  Another recent issue involved a cake mix in which the E. coli bacteria was detected in the flour ingredient.  While no consumers were reported sick, the cake mix was recalled.  A similar issue occurred this past week as pancake mixes were recalled due to potential Salmonella contamination of the dairy powder ingredient.  These and other incidents of bacterial contamination of food ingredients has prompted the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to reevaluate food safety regulations for manufacturers and to warn consumers of the risk of eating raw dough mixes.

As a consumer, you need to think about the food and its ingredients before eating it.  If the recipe requires the food item to go under some sort of cooking (applied heat for a period of time) before it can be served, then you should follow those instructions and avoid licking the spoon or tasting a sample of the raw mix.  Avoidance is especially true for young children, who are normally more susceptible to food-borne illness.  While food companies follow regulations and best practices, this does not guarantee the product will be free from low levels of pathogenic bacteria.   So resist the natural habit to lick the spoon; just patiently wait until after the cooking process has been completed. 

Contact Information

Richard Kralj, M Ed., RDN, LDN
  • Food Safety and Nutrition Educator
Phone: 814-849-7361 x1