Update: On July 25, 2016, General Mills expanded their flour recall to include flour production dates through February 10, 2016 (the previous recall only included flours produced through December 4, 2015). The update, details of which can be found on their website, is in light of four new confirmed cases of E. coli. The company is continuing to remind home bakers to not consume uncooked flour.
Though we may typically associate E. coli with contaminated beef and dairy, the latest host of the bacteria might be hiding in your pantry. It’s flour—and because it has a shelf life of one to two years, it’s worth checking your bags to see if you could be at risk.
The first recall was made in late May 2016, when General Mills voluntarily recalled products produced between November 14, 2015 and December 4, 2015, which were sold under three brand names: Gold Medal flour, Signature Kitchens flour, and Gold Medal Wondra flour. The recall, which included unbleached, all-purpose, and self-rising varieties, was made following an outbreak of Shinga toxin-producing E.coli 0121.
“As a leading provider of flour for 150 years, we felt it was important to not only recall the product and replace it for consumers if there was any doubt, but also to take this opportunity to remind our consumers how to safely handle flour,” Liz Nordlie, president of General Mills Baking division, said in a press release.
On July 1, due to a newly reported illness, General Mills expanded the recall to include more flours (under the same brands) produced earlier in the fall. The full list of recalled products, which were sold nationwide, can be found on the FDA’s website, and General Mills has posted photos of the recalled products.
Of the 42 people infected (in 21 states), some had eaten or handled raw dough, prompting the FDA to release a health update earlier this month that urged consumers to avoid eating unbaked cookie dough. But the potential for harm expands beyond baking cookies.
According to the FDA, consumers should never consume raw products made with flour, and should follow the directions on any baking mixes to ensure they cook them at the proper temperature and for the necessary amount of time. E. coli 0121 is eliminated by heat (whether by baking, frying, sautéing, or boiling), meaning it's the unbaked flour that poses a risk.
They also suggest thoroughly washing your hands with hot water and soap, as well as washing any utensils and work surfaces that have come in contact with raw flour. And if you keep your flour in a container other than its original bag, it’s worth replacing it with fresh flour (and sanitizing the container) just in case it was part of the contaminated batch.
Symptoms of E. coli 0121 typically include diarrhea and abdominal cramping—they usually come on two to eight days after contamination and resolve within a week, according the CDC. The FDA recommends contacting your doctor if symptoms are accompanied by a high fever, bloody stools, or extreme vomiting—or if diarrhea persists longer than three days.