January 23, 2022

Safety a key ingredient

Shop owner: Work clean when making baked goods

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

Dakota Stafford measures brownie batter Tuesday at East Side Bakery on Elm Street in Cortland. The No. 1 rule for safe baking is cleanliness, says owner Tim Armstrong.

Tim Armstrong wiped down the counter and mixer Tuesday at East Side Bakery in Cortland. The No. 1 safety tip in baking cookies, he says?

“Cleanliness,” he said, giving another wipe to the mixer. He’s a clean-as-you-go kind of baker.

“It’s the only way,” he said, as much for safety as for efficiency. Behind him, Dakota Stafford moved trays of baked goods to a cooling rack and started measuring out brownie batter.

They were surrounded by thousands of cookies — between 70 and 140 cookies per tray and easily a dozen trays filled counters and shelves around the Elm Street bakery.

With the holiday season more than underway and many people still at home polishing up on their baking skills during the coronavirus pandemic, culinary experts are reminding people to follow the basics when it comes to baking: keep your station clean; bake the cookies appropriately; and don’t eat the cookie dough.

For generations, people have been told not to eat cookie dough because of the raw eggs in it could give them salmonella, said Elizabeth Demmings, the program coordinator at the Institute for Food Safety at Cornell University, in a food safety tip piece.

But many people don’t know, she said, that you just shouldn’t eat raw cookie dough at all.

“This is because eating uncooked flour can also cause foodborne illnesses — usually due to contamination from pathogenic E. coli.,” she said.

In fact, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report two E.coli outbreaks — in 2016 and 2019 — sickening 80 people connected to eating raw flour.

Feeling sick

Symptoms of E.coli

  • Severe stomach cramps.
  • Diarrhea (often bloody).
  • Vomiting.

People usually get sick three to four days after swallowing the germ. Most people recover within a week.

Symptoms of salmonella n Diarrhea.

  • Fever.
  • Stomach cramps.

Infections typically appear six hours to six days after being exposed to the bacteria. In most cases, illness lasts four to seven days and people recover without antibiotics.

Source: CDC

Fear not, she said: For those who need to satisfy cookie cravings there are edible cookie dough products made with pasteurized eggs and heat-treated flour, making them safe to consume.

But if you aren’t willing to pay for those products you’ll just have to wait for the cookies to bake at the right temperature, for the right amount of time in order to kill off any chances of getting salmonella or E. coli.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend following all cooking directions in cake or cookie mixes or recipes.

Outside Elm Street Bakery, a customer bent over and peeked through the window.

“We’re not cooking with unsafe ingredients,” Armstrong said.

Except for the eggs, most of the ingredients for cookies are dry and safe at room temperature: flour, sugar, a bit of leavening.

It’s not, say, raw chicken, which can pose a threat of salmonella or campylobacter. There’s no storing raw ingredients over cooked food, which is a serious no-no.

It’s not catering, where food must be kept consistently above 140 degrees or below 40 degrees.

Still, Armstrong keeps it clean.

“Actually, the hardest thing for me?” he asked rhetorically, pointing to a case filled with raspberry linzer tarts, Napoleons, almond crescents, wine drops, molasses and chocolate chip cookies and mumsies — an Italian lemon cookie: “Keeping it cool.”