It Came From the Library 12: Milk, Hold the Cookies

by in News, June 26th, 2009

How an extremely misanthropic resident of the bovine digestive system such as E. coli travels through four stomachs, 150 feet of intestines large and small, across thousands of miles, from farm to processor(s) to retailers to — at the end of a journey that makes a Yukon river salmon run look like a 5-minute commute — ultimately find new accommodations in some unlucky human gut is one of the most pressing mysteries investigators of food contamination have attempted to solve since the first major E. coli scare back in 1992.

This week that mystery got a new twist with the emergence of a new and wholly unlikely disease vector: chocolate chip cookie dough. Now, a rare hamburger (or even spinach grown downstream from a feedlot) is one thing. But how E. coli 0157 found its way into a package of Nestlé Toll House Cookie Dough, let alone enough packages to sicken at least 65 people in 29 states, is the kind of mystery that adds a whole new layer of fear and distrust to an already worrisome situation. Nothing in Nestlé’s product would seem to pose an E. coli risk. The risk usually associated with cookie dough is salmonella from raw eggs-even Nestlé’s eggs are pasteurized.

One can only hope that the food safety reform bill just passed by a House panel, while far from perfect, will make such mysteries easier to solve in the future. In the meantime 300,000 cases of recalled cookie dough should have landfills nationwide smelling a little sweeter for the next few weeks.

Jonathan Milder, Research Librarian

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