How Did E. Coli Get Into Nestle's Cookie Dough?

USA Today is reporting that the FDA is “stumped” by the presence of E. coli 0157:H7 in Nestle Tollhouse Cookie Dough, which was recalled last week. How does bacteria normally associated with raw ground beef find its way into our buckets of delicious cookie dough? Some speculation, inside.

Tests haven’t yet confirmed the presence of E. coli in the cookie dough, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state officials, and reports of what victims ate suggest the cookie dough was the culprit.

E. coli sickness is usually the result of eating contaminated beef, especially ground beef, so it’s left everyone confused how this could happen in cookie dough. Bill Marler, a food safety lawyer who has litigated prominent E. coli cases offers, and rebuts, some hypotheses:

E. coli can contaminate milk; Wikipedia notes that it can get into milk from the udder or processing machines. It’s unlikely that Nestle was using raw milk, though, and pasteurization would kill the bacteria.

E. coli can also be spread through poor hygiene by someone with the bacteria in his system (say by eating undercooked hamburger). An employee who didn’t wash his hands after coming into contact with contaminated feces or anuses might be the source, but Marler doubts that it was an employee, given the size of the outbreak (illnesses have been reported in 29 states).

Marler notes that your typical dirty processing culprits, rats and mice, might have spread the bacteria, but warns that “always be aware that somewhere in the background likely lurks a cow.” With milkfat and whey both on the list of ingredients, we wonder if either was responsible.

Nestle Recall Leaves a Mystery in Its Wake [WaPo]
So, How the Hell Does Cow Shit (E. coli O157:H7) Get Into Nestle’s Toll House Cookie Dough? [Marler Blog]
(Photo: prep4md and jelene)

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.