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Salmonella Outbreak Tied to Flour Hits 11 States—How to Stay Safe, CDC Says

The foodborne illness has led to a dozen cases so far, including three hospitalizations.

Even if you do your best to eat right, foodborne illnesses can still pose a significant risk to your health. Whether from improper handling of ingredients or part of a more widespread outbreak, potentially harmful microbes can make people very sick if they're ingested. Officials can sometimes issue a recall in cases where a clear culprit has been determined. But now, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says it's investigating a Salmonella outbreak tied to flour that has sickened people in 11 states so far. Read on to see how the agency says you can keep yourself safe.

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A Salmonella outbreak linked to flour made a dozen people sick across 11 states.

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On March 30, the CDC posted an investigation notice warning that flour is likely the source of a Salmonella outbreak that has sickened 12 people to date. The reported cases have spanned 11 states, including one each in California, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, and Virginia, and two in Illinois. Three of the cases also resulted in hospitalization.

The agency also cautioned that the alert is not limited to the states where illnesses have been reported. In addition, it warned that the actual number of cases was likely much higher as many people who become sick do not seek medical attention and are never tested for Salmonella.

The CDC says it's still working to identify which specific flour brands could be responsible for the illnesses. State and local public health officials investigating the outbreak said that six out of seven people interviewed reported eating "raw dough or batter" before they became ill and that flour was the only common ingredient in all cases.

Salmonella can cause severe illness in some people.

A woman holding her stomach in pain in the kitchen
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According to the CDC, Salmonella infection is unfortunately relatively common, with about 1.35 million reported cases, 26,500 hospitalizations, and 420 deaths each year in the U.S. Many who become ill develop symptoms including diarrhea, stomach cramps, and fever anywhere from six hours to six days after ingesting contaminated food or beverage.

But while most people will recover in about four to seven days after the onset of the illness without the need for medical attention, others can become quite ill. The agency warns that young children under 5, older adults over 65, and those who are immunocompromised can sometimes require hospitalization for severe illness.

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The CDC is warning the public to avoid eating any uncooked flour.

Closeup of mother and child's hands kneading dough
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Because of the outbreak, the CDC is warning the public to avoid eating any uncooked flour while cooking—even in small amounts in dough or batter. The public is advised to cook all items using raw flour as an ingredient according to the recipe or package instructions and follow the designated temperature and cooking time.

"Flour doesn't look like a raw food, but most flour is raw," the agency wrote in its investigation notice. "This means that it hasn't been treated to kill germs that cause food poisoning. Any raw (unbaked) flour used to make dough or batter can be contaminated with germs like Salmonella, but Salmonella germs are killed when flour is cooked or baked. You can get sick after eating or tasting raw dough or batter."

The CDC adds that children who play with homemade playdough are also at risk of potential infection. The agency advises buying heat-treated flour for anyone using it for play or craft projects.

Make sure to properly clean your kitchen and utensils if cooking with raw flour.

washing dishes at kitchen
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While many home cooks use extra care while handling items such as raw meat, poultry, and fish, contaminated flour can also pose a potential cross-contamination risk in the kitchen. The CDC advises washing any bowls, utensils, containers, and surfaces that have come in contact with raw flour with warm water and soap and being sure to wash your hands before and after touching the ingredient.

Anyone who develops severe symptoms of potential Salmonella infection should also seek medical attention immediately. These include diarrhea that is bloody, doesn't improve after three days, or is accompanied by a fever higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit; vomiting so much that you can't keep liquids down; and signs of dehydration, such as not urinating often, having a dry mouth and throat, and feeling dizzy when standing up.

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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