“It was not the failure of the cookie dough manufacturer for not keeping cattle feces (E. coli) out of cookie dough that sickened the child, it is the fault of the parent who allowed the child to eat the dough.”
I have received several calls and emails like the above over the last few days as the country has been ensnared once again in a nationwide recall – this time cookie dough – that has sickened at least 69 in 30 States – mostly people (girls) under the age of 18.
At first I calmly tried to respond that a company that makes a profit off of selling a product that it knows is eaten raw can not blame the consumer if the product actually contains a pathogen that can severely sicken or kill a child. The reality is that cookie manufacturers know that they sell a product that is eaten raw.
From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune – “Long known to satisfy a certain longing of the brokenhearted and the children-at-heart, the dough is nearly as popular raw as it is baked. There are more than 40 cookie dough groups on Facebook — one with more than 1.3 million members — complete with photos and postings that read like love notes.”
From the Washington Post – “Nestle’s cookie dough is packaged with labels warning consumers not to eat it raw. But people tend to disregard the warning — 39 percent of consumers eat raw cookie dough, according to Consumer Reports. It has become such a popular snack that many ice cream makers have developed a cookie dough flavor.”
So, the reply to my calm response has been, “the consumer should know that cookie dough may contain bacteria and they are told to cook it.”
My calmness has now faded. Think about the little labels on cookie dough that you buy in the store – the ones that tell you “cook before eating” – wink, wink. However, the labels do not say:
“THE FDA INSPECTION MEANS NOTHING. THIS PRODUCT MAY CONTAIN A PATHOGENIC BACTERIA THAT CAN SEVERELY SICKEN OR KILL YOU AND/OR YOUR CHILD. HANDLE THIS PRODUCT WITH EXTREME CARE.”
I wonder why the Cookie Industry would not want a label like that on your tub of dough. It knows that the label is truthful. Do you think it might be concerned that Moms and Dads would stop buying it? The day the Cookie Industry puts a similar label on the label is the day that I will go work for them. The reality is that the Cookie Industry and the FDA has not yet been able to assure the public that the dough we buy is not contaminated. So, instead of finding a way to get cattle feces out of our cookie dough, they blame parents when children get sick.
Consumers can always do better. However, study after study shows that, despite the CDC estimated 76 million people getting sick every year from food borne illnesses, the American public still has misconceptions and overconfidence in our Nation’s food supply.
According to a study by the Partnership for Food Safety Education, fewer than half of the respondents knew that fresh vegetables and fruits could contain harmful bacteria, and only 25% thought that eggs and dairy products could be contaminated. Most consumers believe that food safety hazards can be seen or smelled. Only 25% of consumers surveyed knew that cooking temperatures were critical to food safety, and even fewer knew that foods should be refrigerated promptly after cooking. Consumers do not expect that things that you cannot see in your food can kill you.
Consumers are being blamed, but most lack the knowledge or tools to properly protect themselves and their children. The FDA has stated, “unlike other pathogens, E. coli O157:H7 has no margin for error. It takes only a microscopic amount to cause serious illness or even death.”
Many consumers wrongly believe the Government is protecting the food supply. How many times have we heard our Government officials spout, “The US food supply is the safest in the world.”
Where is the multi-million dollar ad campaign to convince us of the dangers of uncooked cookie dough, like we do for tobacco? Most consumers learn about food safety from TV and family members – If your TV viewing habits and family are like mine, these are highly suspect sources of good information.
The industry that makes a lot of dough off of selling dough must step up and clean up their mess. They can, and someday will, if I have anything to say about it. That day will come much faster if they start working on it now, and stop blaming the victims.
Bill Marler is husband, father of three daughters and a trial lawyer.