When you buy a new bag of flour, what do you do? Do you dump the bag out into a bin or canister in your kitchen, or do you scoop it out of the bag it came in? Both methods work fine, but it was the members of Team Bag who helped the Food and Drug Administration solve the mystery of a recent nationwide E. coli outbreak.
The bag, you see, has the lot number and information about where the flour was manufactured. The Food and Drug Administration recounts that while trying to figure out an E. coli outbreak in disparate parts of the country, it took the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention a few months to narrow down that the patients had all baked from scratch before getting sick.
Some of the patients remembered using Gold Medal flour, but since most people simply dump their new bag of flour into a canister or bin at home, they didn’t have any information on where the flour was processed and when, or even whether it was Gold Medal flour at all.
Finally, a patient who didn’t throw away the bag was interviewed, and gave investigators the information they needed. A sample from that customer’s bag of flour matched the bacteria that infected the patients nationwide.
The agency was also able to track some other E. coli infection to restaurants that let children play with balls of raw dough to keep them occcupied: dough that was made from the same flour that made the home bakers sick.
E. coli isn’t a very pleasant illness to have, but at least regulators and consumers were able to solve the mystery and track down the source… and, since most items that contain flour are baked before consuming, not too many people got sick relative to the amount of flour recalled.