Salmonella: Keeping clean is the answer

Spending a few minutes making chocolate chip cookie dough and eating the whole bowlful may not be your idea of a wild time. But it can be more dangerous than you think, says Phyllis Stumbo, retired research nutritionist at the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine.

Salmonella in raw eggs

"Raw cookie dough contains raw eggs, a potential carrier of salmonella bacteria," she explains.

"Salmonella can be in all animal products, but one of the biggest problems is raw eggs. The bacteria lives on and around the animals, right where the eggs are."

The egg itself is not the problem, Stumbo says.

"Eggs inside the shell are extremely sterile. It's when you crack the egg that bacteria on the shell can get inside."

She doesn't recommend washing the eggs before putting them in the refrigerator.

"Washing an egg wipes off part of the protective coating so bacteria can get inside more easily. If you want to wash the eggs, do so right before you use them."

Keep your hands clean to avoid salmonella

Keeping your hands clean is the best way to protect against salmonella poisoning. Be aware, too, of contaminating your hands again.

"If you wash your hands and then cut up chicken; for example, you should wash your hands before handling the salad fixings. And clean the cutting board with warm, soapy water, rinsing well after washing, before using it to cut the vegetables."

Symptoms of salmonella

Symptoms of salmonella poisoning include

  • Diarrhea
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Chills
  • Fever and nausea

Symptoms usually appear within eight to 72 hours after you have eaten the contaminated food, she says.

"This can make it difficult to pinpoint the food containing the salmonella bacteria, because in all likelihood, you've eaten the evidence," Stumbo says.

Who's at risk for life-threatening salmonella poisoning?

Salmonella can be life-threatening for the frail elderly and infants. For most healthy people, Stumbo says, salmonella is not deadly.

"We've all eaten bacteria, and a little bit isn't going to hurt you. But I'd definitely advise you not to eat a bowl of cookie dough. And you probably shouldn't give your child the cake batter bowl and beaters to lick," she says.

Protect yourself from salmonella

But what do you say to habitual raw cookie dough eaters who don’t want to give up their habit? You can make raw dough less dangerous by using pasteurized eggs, which are free of salmonella bacteria. And be sure your flour has not been recalled, as occasionally (rarely) flour is contaminated with e coli bacteria and must be recalled.

When to see a doctor

If you experience salmonella poisoning symptoms, you'll most likely recover, Stumbo says.

"But if you become dehydrated, see your doctor immediately."

For more information about salmonella poisoning, talk to your physician.

Last reviewed: 
June 2017

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