What happens if I eat raw cookie dough while pregnant?

Eating raw cookie dough while pregnant is generally not recommended due to the potential risks from consuming uncooked eggs and flour. However, many pregnant women may give into the temptation of sneaking a bite or two while baking cookies. So what exactly are the risks, and how much raw cookie dough is safe to eat during pregnancy?

Quick Answer

The main risks from eating raw cookie dough while pregnant come from raw eggs, which can contain salmonella bacteria. While the chance of getting salmonella from eggs is low, pregnant women are at higher risk of serious complications. It’s best to avoid eating raw dough with eggs. Pre-made heat-treated cookie dough or baking your own cookies fully are safer options during pregnancy.

Raw Eggs and Salmonella Risk

The primary health concern with eating raw cookie dough while pregnant is salmonella infection from raw eggs. Salmonella bacteria can contaminate eggshells and occasionally get inside the egg during formation. Eating raw or undercooked eggs allows any bacteria present to survive and infect you. Salmonella causes an estimated 1.35 million infections, 26,500 hospitalizations, and 420 deaths in the U.S. every year, according to the CDC.

Symptoms of salmonella infection include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fever and chills
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache

While most healthy adults recover from salmonella in 4-7 days without treatment, it can cause severe dehydration if fluids are not replaced. It can also spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and become life-threatening unless antibiotics are given.

Pregnant women are one of the groups at higher risk for severe salmonella infections. Hormonal changes and immune system adjustments during pregnancy make it harder for the body to fight off infections. Salmonella can also cross the placenta and infect the baby, potentially leading to premature birth or stillbirth. One study found pregnant women with salmonella infections were over 7 times more likely to have pregnancy complications.

Salmonella Statistics in Raw Eggs

Only around 1 in every 20,000 eggs in the U.S. is contaminated with salmonella, according to the FDA. So the chances of getting sick from eating a small amount of raw cookie dough are extremely low. However, health experts do not consider this risk acceptable during pregnancy due to the severity of potential complications.

The salmonella risk increases with more raw eggs consumed. Eating multiple batches of cookie dough could potentially expose you to higher bacterial levels. For example, if each batch contained 2 eggs, eating dough from 5 batches would equal 10 raw eggs consumed.

How to Reduce the Risk

To enjoy cookie dough safely during pregnancy:

  • Use pasteurized eggs in homemade dough. Pasteurization heats the eggs enough to kill bacteria like salmonella.
  • Buy pre-made heat-treated cookie dough. Many brands now offer ready-to-bake dough that has been heat processed for safety.
  • Bake cookies fully until no raw dough remains. Only eat fully cooked cookies, not dough scraps.

Avoid tasting large quantities of raw dough or batch bowl scrapings. Do not make raw egg-containing cookie dough and allow it to sit at room temperature for long periods before baking either.

Raw Flour Concerns

In addition to raw eggs, there is also a small risk from consuming raw flour while pregnant. Uncooked flour may contain E. coli bacteria, which can cause serious food poisoning. Like salmonella, certain strains of E. coli also pose a higher health risk in pregnant women and may affect the developing baby.

However, raw flour is not considered as dangerous as raw eggs. The low moisture content of flour makes it more difficult for bacteria to grow. Cases of food poisoning from raw flour are much rarer compared to raw eggs.

Nonetheless, completely cooking flour-containing foods like cookie dough and bread dough reduces the infection risk. Consuming large amounts of raw dough could potentially expose you to E. coli bacteria from the flour.

Other Raw Dough Risks

Aside from the raw egg and flour concerns, there are a few other reasons medical professionals recommend against eating raw cookie dough when pregnant:

  • Foodborne illness outbreaks – Commercial raw cookie dough has been linked to food poisoning outbreaks in the past. In 2009-2015, several outbreaks of E. coli and salmonella were traced back to raw pre-made cookie dough.
  • Food labeling errors – Products may claim to be fully cooked when some raw dough lingers. It’s safest not to take the risk with any unbaked products.
  • Cross-contamination – Even if pasteurized eggs are used, other ingredients like chocolate chips or nuts can introduce bacteria if storage practices are subpar.

The overall chances of foodborne illness from a bite or two of dough are remote. But pregnancy increases the stakes of any potential infection. Following the FDA’s recommendation to avoid raw dough altogether when expecting eliminates this gamble.

How Much Raw Dough Is Dangerous?

There is no set cut-off for how much raw dough is known to be safe or dangerous during pregnancy. Even a small bite could theoretically transmit salmonella or E. coli, though the risk is extremely low.

Eating larger quantities of dough raises the risk level due to greater exposure to potential pathogens. Consuming multiple batches of homemade cookie dough made with several raw eggs could be especially problematic.

In rare cases, extremely high bacterial contamination levels in ingredients could also lead to illness from just a tiny amount of dough. But this scenario is difficult to predict.

Ultimately, there is no guaranteed “safe” threshold, which is why complete avoidance of raw dough is recommended during pregnancy. The only way to reduce the risk to zero is to not consume any uncooked dough at all.

How Much Dough is Typically Consumed?

In one survey by the NPD Group, around 30% of Americans reported tasting unbaked dough or batter while baking. Of dough eaters, consumption habits broke down as follows:

Amount Eaten Percentage of Respondents
1-2 bites 22%
3-10 bites 41%
More than 10 bites 37%

The survey found dough eaters typically consume only a small portion. But 37% reporting eating over 10 bites indicates some may eat in riskier quantities.

Can I Eat Store-Bought Cookie Dough?

Refrigerated store-bought cookie dough that is meant to be baked is just as risky to consume raw as homemade versions. Many commercial products are made with raw flour and eggs and have the same potential to contain pathogens.

However, there are now several brands of ready-to-eat cookie dough on the market that have undergone processing to eliminate foodborne illness risks. These products have been heat-treated or use pasteurized ingredients to make the dough safe to eat unbaked.

Ready-to-eat doughs are sold refrigerated in the bakery or deli section. Popular brands include:

  • Nestlé Toll House Cookie Dough
  • Pillsbury Ready to Eat Cookie Dough
  • Edoughble Cookie Dough

Check the label to confirm the product is intended to be eaten without baking. Avoid any raw refrigerated dough. Only choose products specifically labeled as ready-to-eat or safe to consume uncooked.

Are Ready-to-Eat Doughs Completely Safe?

Heat-treated doughs are made with steps to reduce potential bacteria and make the products safer to eat raw. However, nothing is 100% guaranteed germ-free.

For example, Nestlé’s ready-to-eat cookie dough uses pasteurized flour and eggs when making the dough. After mixing, the dough goes through a heat treatment process to reduce microorganisms. But cross-contamination could still occur after treatment through storage and handling.

The overall risk is considered very low, based on a lack of reported illnesses from these specialized products. But it’s not technically zero. Your personal health status can also impact susceptibility. Those pregnant or immunocompromised may want to exercise extra caution.

What About Cake Batter?

As with cookie dough, medical experts caution against consuming raw cake batter while pregnant. Raw eggs are a common ingredient in cake and muffin batters, presenting the same salmonella risk as cookie dough.

There are some ready-to-eat cake batter products going through similar safety processes as edible cookie dough. Brands like Delighted by Dessert use pasteurized liquid eggs in their pre-made edible batter. However, exercise the same degree of caution and check labels carefully before consuming any kind of raw batter while pregnant.

Can Raw Dough Hurt My Baby?

Eating raw cookie dough is unlikely to directly affect or harm your developing baby. Any potential risks relate to exposure to foodborne illnesses from bacteria in the dough ingredients.

As mentioned earlier, certain pathogens like salmonella have the ability to cross the placenta from mother to baby. A maternal infection can trigger pregnancy complications, premature labor, low birth weight, and even miscarriage or stillbirth.

However, the likelihood of these worst-case scenarios is extremely small. The estimated risk of salmonella infection from consuming a small amount of raw dough is less than 1 in 1 million. Millions of pregnant women likely sample cookie dough with no issues.

But medical guidance cautions against any raw dough when expecting, even small tastes. While not necessarily dangerous, it’s an avoidable risk that provides no health benefits. If you do ingest a bite or two of dough by accident, don’t panic – simply avoid consuming any more.

Bottom Line

Here’s a quick summary of the guidance around eating raw cookie dough during pregnancy:

  • Completely avoiding raw dough is recommended, due to the potential presence of harmful bacteria like salmonella and E. coli.
  • Consuming raw dough is not likely dangerous from an isolated incidental bite or two. But repeated exposure to larger amounts raises the risk level.
  • Opt for heat-treated edible dough, baked goods, or pasteurized eggs and flour to make safe homemade dough instead.
  • Discard any leftover homemade raw dough after baking. Do not eat multiple batches worth of dough raw.
  • Remember food safety, avoiding cross contamination, and cooking any flour or egg-containing products fully.

While it can take effort to resist that tempting dough while baking, forgoing raw cookie dough for 9 months is a simple way to protect your health and your baby’s during pregnancy. Taking the safer route ensures you can enjoy delicious cookies and baked treats without needless worries.

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