Safe Edible Cookie Dough

Edible Cookie Dough Peanut Butter Bites

An interesting question came from an AnswerLine friend. This person had received a recipe for making homemade cookie dough ice cream. Being aware that raw flour should not be consumed, this friend was delighted to find directions in the recipe for supposedly making the flour used in the cookie dough safe by baking the flour in a preheated 350F oven for 5 minutes on a sheet pan. Question: Did this really make the flour safe so that the cookie dough was safe to eat in the ice cream?

Since edible cookie dough is now such a popular trend, there are several internet sites that suggest the same or similar DIY methods to eliminate possible pathogens found in flour. However, none of the sites are researched based. While it makes sense that heating flour in an oven could eliminate the potential food safety issue, there is no research-based DIY directions for consumers to support that theory. Food safety experts advise against any of these DIY methods as there is NO guarantee that the flour will reach the desired 160F needed to eliminate food contaminates for an appropriate amount of time. Further, baking flour could possibly denature the protein strands in the flour resulting in a less desirable product.

Flour is classified as a minimally processed agricultural ingredient and is not a ready-to-eat product. Through the growing process, wheat can come into contact with harmful bacteria like E. coli or Salmonella via wild animal waste. If pathogens get into the wheat plant, they stay with the seed head in the milling process. When flour is used in baked products, the baking temperatures will generally inactivate any pathogens in the flour. However, harmful bacteria remain active in uncooked flour and when ingested will cause illness or worse.

So if one desires edible cookie dough, what are the options for safe “flours?” There are a couple of easy options:

Purchase commercially processed heat-treated flour. Heat-treated wheat flour is not generally available at our local supermarkets. Page House is one such brand and is available online. It is, however, a bit pricey.

Substitute oatmeal or oat flour. Flour is used in dough to add structure, not flavor. Oatmeal or oat flour is a good replacement as it is not dangerous to eat raw. Oat flour tends to also be a bit pricey but can easily be made by pulsing oatmeal in a blender or food processor. (Two cups of oatmeal will yield about 1 ½ cups of oat flour.) In the process of making oatmeal, the oat grain is heated to stabilize the oat groats and then it is steamed to flatten into oatmeal thus oatmeal is classified as a ready-to-eat product.

The other ingredient in cookie dough that can render cookie dough unsafe is eggs. Pasteurized eggs or no eggs at is the way to go. Peanut butter can also be used to replace eggs.

Here are two recipes that I make with my ‘edible-cookie-dough-lovin’ grand kids.

Peanut Butter Bites
2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
½ cup add-ins (chocolate chips, raisins, dried fruit,
peanuts, chia seeds, M&’s, etc)
1 cup old fashioned oats
½ cup ground flax seed
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
Combine all ingredients. Roll into balls.
Store in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks.

Edible Cookie Dough
½ cup butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons milk
1 ½ homemade oat flour (see above)
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup add-ins (chocolate chips, peanut butter chips,
M&M’s, raisins, nuts, Reece’s pieces, etc)
Cream sugars, vanilla, and milk until fluffy. Add in oat flour and salt. Mix until all is incorporated. Stir in add-ins. Shape into balls. Serve immediately or store in refrigerator for up to a week. 

Enjoy cookie dough, but do it safely!

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Salsa – Questions and Answers

With the summer gardens finally coming into season bringing an abundance of tomatoes, peppers/chilies, onions, and herbs, salsa making season is here! With it comes lots of questions to AnswerLine regarding how to make it safely. This blog will attempt to answer some of the most frequently asked questions.

I made up my own recipe for salsa or got one from a friend. Can you tell me how long to process it? It is important to use a tested or researched based recipe when canning homemade salsa. The reason being, the ratio of low acid vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, onion and garlic) to acid (lemon juice, lime juice, or vinegar) has not been tested in a non-research based recipe. Recipes that have been tested will have enough acid to prevent the growth of the botulism bacteria and provide a safe product that everyone can enjoy straight from the canning jar. (Source: Homemade Salsa is a Science, Not an Art, Michigan State University)

Where do I find safe recipes for canning salsa? Creating a safe product that can be processed and stored on a shelf means having the correct proportion of acid to low acid vegetables to prevent the growth of botulism bacteria. The best way to ensure that the salsa is safe is to always follow a tested or researched based recipe. These recipes can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation, Land Grand University publications or blogs, The USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning, and So Easy to Preserve.

Can I make my own salsa recipe? Creating your own recipe is a possibility. However, instead of guessing at the processing time, freeze it or make just enough to be eaten fresh. Another alternative is to follow a tested recipe using the exact ingredients and processing time; when ready to use, add the black beans, corn, or any other ingredient that should not be used in a home canned salsa recipe.

Can I add more cilantro to my canned salsa than the recipe includes? Cilantro is best added to fresh salsa. It is not usually included in cooked recipes. Cilantro loses its fresh flavor when cooked and becomes dark and soft in the mixture. As mentioned in creating your own salsa, cilantro could be added at the time of using the canned salsa.

Do I have to use canning salt? Canning salt is recommended and should definitely be used with vegetable and pickle canning. However, in a pinch, one could get by with iodized or table salt with salsa. The product will be safe but one may detect a metallic or bitter flavor which may not be disguised by the spices or herbs used in the salsa. Also, table salt usually has an added anti-caking ingredient which may cause a slight cloudiness.

Can I substitute peppers? One should never increase the total volume of peppers in a recipe. However, substituting one variety of a pepper for another is perfectly fine.

Must I use the suggested spices? Spices are the only safe ingredient you may change in a tested recipe to adjust for flavor.

Does it matter what kind of onion I use? Like peppers, one should not increase the amount of onion specified in a tested recipe. However, red, yellow, or white onions may be substituted for each other.

Is it okay to use any size jar? The size of the jar can also affect the safety of the product. All tested recipes are canned in pint jars and one should not substitute another size and assume it is safe.

For more information on preserving homemade salsa, check out Preserve the Taste of Summer Canning: Salsa.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Freezing strawberries

This is the last week for picking strawberries at the farm I go to. I am always sad to see the season end. The berries are consistently delicious! The ones I buy in the store the rest of the year never measure up. I do make sure I freeze a certain amount to have on hand during the Winter as I enjoy the flavor in smoothies and desserts.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends using a sugar syrup or sugar pack when freezing strawberries. This process works very well and helps preserve the color and texture of the berries. It is however a quality issue, not a safety issue.

Many people prefer not to have the added sugar. This also gives you more options when you are ready to use them later in the year. For my purposes I prefer the dry pack method. It is easy right now to spread my berries out in a single layer on a parchment lined cookie sheet and let them freeze individually overnight then transfer them to my freezer bags/containers. By letting them freeze individually first it is easy to just remove the amount I need without any of them sticking together in a glob.

I will enjoy the fresh strawberries of the season as long as I can and also make sure I freeze some to enjoy later.

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Blanching?

We are starting to get calls about freezing and blanching fruits and vegetables. We often explain to callers that blanching is a quality step and not a safety step. Blanching vegetables will kill the enzymes present that will continue to soften the food even in the freezer. Blanching will also protect the color of the vegetable. The directions for blanching are often confusing for callers.

We tell callers to blanch vegetables in small batches; work with a quart of product at a time. Start water heating on the stove and when it boils, add the vegetables. Wait until the food returns to a boil to begin timing the blanching time. When the time is up, remove the vegetables from the boiling water and plunge them into ice water. The ice water will stop the cooking process. Plan to cool the vegetables for at least as long as the blanching time. Cooling for a bit longer will not hurt the quality of the food and will help it cool much faster in the freezer. Callers can choose from freezing in a container or freezing on a tray and then transferring vegetables into a freezer bag or container after 24 hours. Tray freezing will allow the caller to enjoy any amount of vegetable at a time without thawing an entire container of food.

Happy blanching!

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Liquid Smoke, that Controversial Condiment

Liquid smoke is a condiment that invites controversy.  Barbecue purists roll their eyes and say “no way.”  Health groups consistently voice concern over possible health risks. Yet despite all the ‘nay’, there is a strong ‘yay’ with marketing trends showing that the condiment is growing in popularity as a flavor additive.

Liquid smoke is made by channeling smoke from smoldering woodchips through a condenser that quickly cools the vapors causing them to liquefy.  The water-soluble flavor compounds in the smoke are trapped within the liquid while the insoluble tars and resins are removed by a series of filters.  The results is a clean, all natural smoke-flavored liquid that provides a cookout-like flavor when outdoor grilling isn’t an option.

Ernest H Wright is credited with introducing liquid smoke in 1895.  As a teenager, he worked in a print shop and noticed the liquid dropping from the stove pipe that heated the shop tasted like smoke.  Years later as a pharmacist, he experimented and perfected the process of condensing hot smoke from a wood fire to create Wright’s Liquid Smoke which is still sold today and remains as a pure product, smoke and water.

Unless liquid smoke has added chemicals or ingredients, it is an all-natural product—just smoke suspended in water. (It should be noted that some brands add molasses, vinegar, and other flavorings so read the label to be sure that it is just smoke and water.)  Liquid smoke is used as a flavor additive in a whole host of foods beyond the little bottles on the grocery shelf.  It is the source of the smoky flavor in commercial barbecue sauces, bacon, hot dogs, smoked meats, cheeses, and nuts to name a few.  The process of adding liquid smoke or smoked flavorings to foods is justification for the use of the word “smoke” on package labeling.

What about the health risks?  Smoke, no matter the source, contains cancer-causing chemicals.  Some of those chemicals persist even in the extracts making liquid smoke a potential cancer risk.  Studies have shown that the amount of carcinogenic chemical found in liquid smoke depends on the type of hardwood used and the temperature at which it is burned. Other studies have shown that liquid smoke is less risky than food charred and cooked over smoke. A researcher at NYU found that controlled smoking plus an ensuing filtering process removed most, if not all, of these compounds. Therefore, most experts contend that the concentrations of the carcinogenic molecules in liquid smoke are far too low for any genuine health concerns as one would need to consume far more liquid smoke than most recipes call for to see any effects. Moderation is key with this magical ingredient, so use a light amount (1/4 teaspoon) in dishes for the safest route and if sediment is detected, let it settle and use only the liquid above it.

Liquid smoke has zero calories, zero fat, and most brands are low in sodium (about 10 mg per teaspoon), but it still brings an intense flavor like bacon.  Knowing that we should use it sparingly, it may be brushed on meats to add a depth of flavor or added to foods that generally rely on saturated fats and salt to bring out their flavor; thus it may add flavor for those on restricted diets who find that their food lacks flavor. Just a dash imparts that distinctive meaty, salty flavor that we know and love.   Taste of Home says “there is almost no sauce that wouldn’t benefit from a few drops of liquid smoke.  Adding a few drops to everything from your BBQ sauce to vinaigrette to your ranch dressing will help elevate your burgers, salads, and everything in-between.”

I’m inclined to agree with the barbecue purists–liquid smoke does not replace true smoke, but I enjoy using a little liquid smoke now and again when smoking or grilling is not possible or to step up the flavor of foods and sauces.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Ham tips

This time of year AnswerLine gets a lot of calls about ham. Ham is meat from the hind leg of pork. It can be fresh, cured, or cured-and-smoked. Hams are either ready to eat or not. Ready to eat hams include cooked hams and prosciutto. Hams that must be cooked will have cooking instructions and safe handling instructions right on the label and you MUST cook them. Typically you cook ham at 325 degrees for 10 minutes per pound or to an internal temperature of 145 degrees followed by a 3 minute rest time. To help keep ham moist and juicy during cooking, place cut side down and tent with foil.

Fresh refers to uncured leg of pork. It will have the flavor of a fresh pork loin roast or pork chops. “Fresh” will be part of the product name on the label. The color will be pale pink or beige as opposed to cured ham being a deep rose or pink color and country or dry cured ham being pink to mahogany in color.

Hams can be wet-cured, which is very common, in a brine solution containing water, salt, sugar and spices. During this process the solution is injected into the meat before cooking. There are three varieties of wet-brined ham. “Ham with natural juices” has little water added during the curing process and results in an attractive appearance with a velvety type texture. “Ham with water added” retains more water during the process and is good for steaks, thin slicing and shaving. A “Ham and water product” has the most water added to it and is most often found at the deli counter. It is a good choice if the ham is going to be served cold.

Hams can be dry-cured by rubbing salt and spices into the meat’s surface. They are known as “country-style” hams. Prosciutto is also made using a dry cure.

After curing some hams are smoked. This is a process involving hanging or heating the ham in a smokehouse to allow it to absorb smoke from either smoldering fires or generated smoke which gives added flavor and color.

When purchasing ham allow 1/4 -1/3 pound per serving if it is boneless and 1/3 -1/2 pound per serving if it is bone-in. If you end up with enough leftover ham you won’t be able to consume it within 3 or 4 days consider freezing the leftovers.

FoodSafety.gov has excellent information on ham storage and ham cooking.

 

 

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Making Homemade Noodles Safely

“What is the best way to store homemade noodles?” was an AnswerLine question.  The caller related how her grandmother used to make large batches of homemade noodles, cut, and dry them on a clothes drying rack or on dowel rods between the kitchen chairs.  After the noodles were thoroughly dry, they were packaged in large tins and placed in the pantry for future use.

That was the method of yesteryear.  NOT today. The University of Illinois has a great publication on the ease of making homemade noodles and how to store them properly.  Here are some highlights from that publication that pertain specifically to homemade noodle food safety:

  • Noodles are pasta but different from other pasta because noodles contain eggs or egg yolks while other pasta does not. The FDA stipulates that a “noodle” must contain 5.5% of the total solids as egg solids which makes the raw egg ingredient a food safety concern.
  • Homemade noodles should be used right away or refrigerated for up to three days.
  • Fresh noodles may be dried.  At room temperature, they should only be allowed to hang for drying no more than two hours to prevent possible salmonella growth.  A food dehydrator may also be used to dry noodles; recommendations for drying in a food dehydrator are to dry for two to four hours at 135F.  Once noodles are dried, they should be packed in an airtight container or plastic bag and stored in the freezer for three to six months for best quality.  I usually add an extra step when I make noodles for the freezer; after allowing them to air dry for 2 hours, I scatter them on baking sheets and place them in the freezer for a couple of hours before packaging.  With the extra step, the noodles are easier to use as they usually don’t stick together.

Here are a couple of other food safety issues to consider when making homemade noodles:

  • As with any dough that contains raw eggs and flour, the dough should never be tasted.
  • Avoid contamination by having a clean working surface, clean hands, and clean equipment.  A cutting board that has been used for raw meat or poultry should not be used for noodle rolling and cutting.
  • Just like other foods that are left at room temperature for longer than two hours, cooking or reheating noodles may not make them safe to eat.  When food items are left out too long or not handled properly, some bacteria can form a heat-resistant toxin that cooking simply can’t destroy.

Homemade noodles are easy to make and are a delightful addition to soups and casseroles.  One only needs to practice a few food safety tips to avoid any potential risks.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Baby Carrots – Myth and Facts

“Is it safe to eat baby carrots that have a white film on the outside?” This was a question from an AnswerLine caller who had read on social media that the white film was a chlorine residue from processing that could cause cancer.  This is an internet myth that has been making the rounds for years.

True facts.  The white film on baby carrots is safe.  It is little more than white blush which is a thin layer of dehydrated carrot.  The film develops when the baby carrots are exposed to air and the outside becomes dry.  Baby carrots do not have a protective skin to prevent them from drying.  Most baby carrots are cut and shaped from larger deformed carrots really making them baby ‘cut’ carrots.  According to a researcher at McGill University ”moisture loss from the carrot surface roughens the outer membranes causing light to scatter which in turn results in a whitish appearance.”

While it is true that carrots may be rinsed in a dilute solution of chlorine to rid bacteria, this has nothing to do with white blush.  Instead of representing a cancer health hazard, carrot processing with chlorinated water is a health-protective step recommended by the US Food and Drug Administration to prevent foodborne outbreaks. The amount of chlorine used in processing is many levels below the allowable limit for drinking water.1  Prior to packaging, the little carrots go through a plain tap water rinse.

If white blush is undesirable for fresh carrot eating, they are still great for cooking.  Besides showing white blush, baby carrots may also get rubbery if packages are not sealed. Rubbery carrots are safe to eat and may be used for cooking should they not make great snacks.  Finally, baby carrots that go beyond rubbery to soft and slimy should be tossed.

Here’s some great baby-carrot storage facts from StillTasty.com

  • How long do baby carrots last? The precise answer to that question depends to a large extent on storage conditions – keep baby carrots refrigerated.
  • To maximize the shelf life of baby carrots, refrigerate in covered container or re-sealable plastic bag or wrap tightly in aluminum foil or plastic wrap.
  • How long do baby carrots last in the fridge? Properly stored, baby carrots will last for 2 to 3 weeks in the refrigerator.
  • Can you freeze baby carrots? Yes, to freeze: (1) Blanch (plunge into boiling water) baby carrots for two minutes and chill quickly in ice cold water; (2) Drain off excess moisture, package in airtight containers or freezer bags and freeze immediately.
  • Frozen baby carrots will soften when thawed and are best used in cooked dishes.
  • How long do baby carrots last in the freezer? Properly stored, they will maintain best quality for about 12 to 18 months, but will remain safe beyond that time.
  • The freezer time shown is for best quality only – carrots that have been kept constantly frozen at 0°F will keep safe indefinitely.
  • How to tell if baby carrots are bad or spoiled? The best way is to smell and look at the baby carrots: discard any carrots that have an off smell or appearance; if mold appears, discard the baby carrots.

So put the internet myth to rest and enjoy your baby carrots!

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Is my milk still safe?

We had a family gathering over the weekend and as things were drawing to a close; my daughter questioned the safety of the milk in my refrigerator. She noticed that the date on the milk jug had just passed. We had a short discussion about how long milk is safe to drink past the sell by date marked on the carton.

In case you are wondering, milk that has been properly stored will remain safe and drinkable for about a week after that sell by date. Of course, if you notice an off flavor, odor, or appearance, you should toss the milk. One of the things that keeps milk safe for the week after the date is storing it in a refrigerator kept below 40° Fahrenheit.

At AnswerLine, we get many calls about food safety. After reading the sell by date on eggs, callers often ask how long

they can safely use eggs. The sell by date on an egg carton, as on milk cartons, refer to the time the store has to sell a product. They cannot legally sell the milk or eggs after the date marked on the carton. Producers of those products do not expect that you will be able to use an entire gallon of milk or a dozen eggs overnight if you happen to purchase them near the date.

It is important to remember that very few items have actual expiration dates. Baby formula is a food that does expire, so remember to always check the date and discard expired formula. Canned foods that have been commercially canned are good for 3-5 years past the best if used by date. Food you home canned should ideally be used within the first year or two at the most after processing.

We ae always happy to help you understand just what food products you have in your home are safe and which ones would be best discarded.

 
Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Storing chocolate

If your sweetie got you some chocolates for Valentine’s Day, you may be wondering just how long you can safely keep them. I did a little research and discovered that you can store that box of chocolate longer than you may have thought.

Chocolate should be stored at temperatures that are slightly cooler than room temperature. Try to keep them between 60° and 70° Fahrenheit. At these temperatures, they should keep well for at least six months. If you need to store them longer, consider storing in the refrigerator or freezer. Chocolates will keep for a year in the refrigerator and for a year and a half in the freezer.

If your sweetie went all out and bought some handmade or premium chocolates, enjoy them now. These chocolates have a much shorter shelf life and will keep for 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator or for 3-6 months in the freezer.

Chocolates will absorb odors from their surroundings so store them in the box they came in or place the box into a freezer bag and keep it sealed. Enjoy that special treat.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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