Cookie Dough E. coli Mystery May Never Be Solved: FDA

After identifying three different strains of E. coli in association with Nestle Toll House cookie dough recalled last month, FDA investigators say they still may never discover how shipments of cookie dough got contaminated or what the exact cause may be for the cases of food poisoning reported in people from 30 states.

The FDA is wrapping up investigations into the E. coli food poisoning contamination that led to a massive recall of all Nestle Toll House refrigerated and prepackaged cookie dough products on June 19, as they have nearly exhausted all leads and have come up empty.

Inspectors only found “minor problems” at the factory where the cookie dough was manufactured, and none of those problems seem to account for the contamination. To make matters more complex, the strain of E. coli associated with the nationwide outbreak is different than the strains found in samples of unopened cookie dough from Nestle’s manufacturing facility in Danville, Virginia.

At least 69 people reportedly suffered from E. coli food poisoning after eating Nestle Toll House cookie dough raw. Nine of those cases involved hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a severe form of food poisoning associated with kidney failure. Symptoms of E. coli food poisoning could include bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Most people recover in about a week, but some are more susceptible to severe infections.

While E. coli was found in an unopened package at the factory at the end of June, FDA officials announced on Thursday that the strain found in the factory did not match the strain that had been making consumers ill across the country. There was also a third strain of E. coli found inside a package of cookie dough taken from someone’s home.

FDA officials said it is “unlikely” that they will ever discover the source, or sources, of the contamination.

Nestle has begun slowly restarting production at the factory. Officials say they have cleaned all of the factory’s equipment, discarded all of the ingredients, and are starting anew with very strict testing.

Several cookie dough food poisoning lawsuits have been filed against Nestle as a result of E. coli outbreak, most of which affected teen and pre-teen girls. Packaging on all raw cookie dough products contains warnings that it should not be consumed raw, but the practice is still very common. The CDC has warned against anyone attempting to cook recalled cookie dough, as they may spread E. coli contamination during preparation.

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