Are you one of those people who can't resist raw cookie dough or who loves to lick the spoon of your vanilla cake batter? It's time to think twice. Flour is a raw ingredient that always needs to be baked or cooked before being eaten.
In fact, Health Canada recently issued a reminder that it is not safe to eat raw cookie dough or other products containing uncooked flour, which may be contaminated with harmful bacteria such as E. coli.
OK, so most people know that they shouldn't eat cookie dough because of raw eggs. But flour? Really? This comes as a surprise to many, as they don't think of flour as being "raw."
But yes, flour — like eggs — is considered a raw ingredient. Flour is derived from grain, which is grown in fields where it may come into contact with bacteria from soil, water or animal waste. Once harvested, wheat kernels are cleaned, dried, sifted and reground to produce several different types of flour that you buy in the baking section of the supermarket. When you read those steps, it's clear to see that there's no stage of the process where the flour is cooked, pasteurized or otherwise treated at a high temperature to kill bacteria.
As long as it's been adequately heated through, you're good to go.
That means flour really is a minimally processed raw ingredient and needs to be treated that way. You've probably never thought about it before, but now that you know, it's important to remember a few things about flour safety.
Cook or bake it
Now for the good news. To eliminate any bacteria found in the raw flour, follow the recipe or package directions. And it doesn't matter if it's boiled, grilled, baked, roasted, fried, etc., as long as it's been adequately heated through, you're good to go. So whether you're making a cheese sauce from a flour-based roux, baking a chicken pot pie with a buttery crust, or making decadent iced brownies, make sure you thoroughly cook those flour-based recipes.
Here are some other important flour safety rules to remember:
Keep it clean!
Always wash your hands, baking tools and surfaces after handling raw flour so you can eliminate bacteria. Soap and warm water will do the trick. Wash any surfaces where dough has been rolled out and cut.
Don't mix raw and cooked
Be sure to separate your raw ingredients — like flour and eggs — from your ready-to-use ingredients, like sugar or chocolate chips. Remember that time you measured a half-cup of flour, then used that unwashed measuring cup to scoop out your chocolate chips? Yeah, don't do that. It can contaminate the rest of the bag of chocolate chips.
Don't lick the spoon
No matter how tempting it is, resist the urge to taste your raw cake and cookie batters. Why risk a bacterial infection like E. coli? Just wait until the cookies are baked instead! They will still be wicked good — I promise.
Don't eat play dough
It's not only cooking with raw flour that can be problematic — playing with it has risks, too. Make sure you and your children wash hands after playing with crafts made with raw flour, such as homemade play dough or holiday ornaments. And remind your kids that these crafts are not edible.
Pass on raw recipes
Not everyone knows that raw flour is not edible, so you may come across recipes where uncooked flour is an ingredient. It doesn't matter how tempting it sounds — don't use flour in recipes that won't be cooked, such as milkshakes, no-bake cookies and homemade cookie dough ice cream. Note: commercial cookie dough ice cream that you buy in your grocer's freezer is safe to eat, because the flour is heat-treated before use. Phew!
Finally, remember to follow recipe instructions, especially cooking and baking times. Make sure you bake your cinnamon buns, date squares, cakes and cookies until they are done, so you can safely enjoy all of your favourite flour-based treats.
Ever wondered what the flour making process entails? Watch this fun video for more details and additional safe handling tips for using flour when baking.
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