Eating raw cake or cookie dough has long been a guilty pleasure, but now it turns out that Grandma was right to snatch the bowl away.
At least 69 people have become violently ill — 34 of them hospitalized — after eating uncooked Nestlé’s Toll House cookie dough. At least nine of those victims suffered kidney failure, as a result of a virulent form of E. coli. Nestlé USA has recalled more than 300,000 cases of the product since, even after cooking, the E. coli could remain on hands or survive in softer, undercooked cookies.
Coming after problems with tainted tomatoes, peanuts and pistachios, this is another warning about the weakness of the nation’s food safety system and why Congress needs to fix it. The House Energy and Commerce Committee recently approved an excellent bill that would strengthen the Food and Drug Administration’s powers. The full House and the Senate — with White House support — need to move this package forward.
That House bill gives the F.D.A. more money and authority, including the much-needed power to recall products quickly instead of waiting for the manufacturer to do so voluntarily. It would also make it easier for the agency’s inspectors to see a company’s food safety records or consumer complaints.
Nestlé voluntarily recalled its dough after the F.D.A. found E. coli at its Danville, Va., plant. But Nestlé, like other companies, routinely refuses to share safety data with inspectors since it is not required to by law. In the recent salmonella outbreak at the Peanut Corporation of America in Georgia, the F.D.A. was forced to use its antiterrorism powers to get data.
Even the improvements envisioned in the House bill will never make the food supply 100 percent germ-free. And the F.D.A. is warning once again that E. coli can appear in unexpected places. Dr. David Acheson, the agency’s associate commissioner for foods, warned consumers — especially those preparing for summertime picnics — to follow the rules for handling all food safely. That includes such basic advice as keeping cold food cold, hot food hot and eating nothing raw that should be cooked.