Just in time for the Christmas cookie season, the scolds at the Food and Drug Administration are warning Americans about the mortal danger associated with licking raw cookie dough off a wooden spoon. If that’s not a sign from Santa that the government has gotten too big, what is?
The FDA has a long history of issuing these sorts of warnings, which do nothing more than convey the agency’s belief that Americans are troublesome children incapable of assessing the risk associated with common, everyday (and totally joyful) situations or accepting the consequences of one’s own risky behavior.
Most people know eating raw food (or raw ingredients in delicious things like cookie dough) carries some risk and yet, we’re willing to do it because things like sushi, oysters, rare steak, unpasteurized french cheeses and even the uncomplicated pleasure of raw cookie dough licked off a mixer blade tastes good.
This latest FDA warning likely stems from a 2016 outbreak of E. coli, the result of contaminated flour. That outbreak sickened 26 people in 24 states. Or perhaps the warning is associated with the FDA’s ongoing obsession with the raw eggs in cookie dough and the remote chance that you might have used an egg contained salmonella. Lenore Skenazy (of Free Range Kids and now Let Grow) looked into the raw egg freak-out a few years ago (also the focus of an FDA warning) and she figured out that it was much ado about not much at all:
Some of you may recall that just a few years ago we were being warned to avoid eating cookie dough not because of the flour but because of the raw eggs. I did my research back then and discovered that only 1 out of 30,000 eggs carries salmonella, and of the people who contract it, 94 percent don't go to the hospital.
Of course, this isn't to suggest foodborne illnesses aren’t something to be concerned about but when you consider these relatively low numbers, does it really warrant a federal agency issue a warning? Perhaps these numbers offer a reason celebrate that in our day and age, 24 people with a tummy ache is considered an "outbreak" and 1 out of 30,000 eggs is a reason to worry.
What's often forgotten in these situations is the loss of fun that comes when these warnings are issued. No doubt someone will see this warning and instead of enjoying a spoonful of cookie dough, caution will lead them to immediately rinse the bowl. Of course, the very young, elderly, or immunocompromise must take extra precautions. But why should everyone be told to skip this guilty pleasure?